I was taught by my mother that you should never cuss. As the oldest of five kids, my folks wanted me to be a good example. They didn’t want my baby brother, 11 years younger than me, saying “fuck” in that adorable voice that four-year-olds use. I’m sure most parents teach the same thing, but as a grown-ass man, I wonder if that’s the right thing to teach our kids.
My father says he has never used a single profanity. I am inclined to believe him, as amazing as that sounds. He grew up very religious and conservative. He is also very structured and methodical. The man is a fourth degree black belt and an engineer. His world is extremely black and white, totally polarized. Mine is different… My world is infinite (fifty?) shades of gray, with nary a black or white in sight. I figure there is a way to justify anything. I guess that’s what this essay is all about.
In the community I grew up in, swearing was not a popular pass time, except for burnouts and dirtbags. When I left the state, I found that colorful language was the norm. Whether in a professional business environment, in the field, or in line at the damn super market, I would hear hilarious words and phrases that made my day, and it made the day of the people standing around, too. It’s seldom I encounter folks taking offense, and usually, that’s just my mom.
Then I married a pottymouth. The funny thing is, she grew up in the next town over, but with one difference; she had hilarious parents. The first time I met her father, he hit on me (with the puppet master watching from afar). But that’s another story… Swearing is the paint with which they create the masterpiece of spoken word, heard in their home. It’s just part of their family culture, and definitely makes dinnertime fun.
Later, when I was in Basic Officer Training in the Air Force, my squadron commander wrote me up and called me into his office for saying the word “dammit”. This especially surprised me, because doesn’t the military love to swear? Isn’t that their thing? Granted, I was brand new to the gig, so what did I know? I was astounded. When I asked him why, he informed me that, as an officer, my troops would be looking up to me and expecting me to be a good example. He told me that “swearing degrades the respect of the man.” Even our drill instructors didn’t swear like normal. They say things like “what the PISS, trainee?!” It’s a little weird.
Clean up your damn mouth. This is exactly the same thing I was taught growing up! Why is that such a popular trope? It’s interesting to think that, in 2016, brands like “Kick Ass Coffee”, “Best Damn Root Beer”, and “Slap My Ass and Call Me Sally Hot Sauce” have vulgarities in the trademarked name, but we are taught to speak like it’s the 1950’s at home. “Mom, do you want some… Kick Butt Coffee?” No.
An assumption people make about colloquial usage of taboo language is that dumb people swear when they can’t come up with a smarter thing to say. Does cussing make a person sound stupid? Does it degrade the respect of the man? An article published by the Association for Psychological Science, entitled The Science of Swearing, says it’s okay. They said that, barring discrimination or sexual harassment, swearing has a cathartic effect and can be beneficial.
A recent study published in Language Sciences magazine, states that "a voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities.” Basically, that’s a nerdy way of saying the more swears you know, and the better you use them, the smarter and more creative you probably are. My pottymouth wife must be a genius, and I think her dad must be on his way to a Nobel Prize! The way he eloquently shoehorns the fuck word into casual conversation is nothing short of masterful.
So whether you cuss, curse, swear or use profanity, do it with creativity and pride.