Pondering profanity

I was probably eight years old the first time I swore in front of my parents.

I was playing outside and saw a garter snake. I love snakes and – being the stupidly enthusiastic animal lover that I am – I said, “I love you, snake, come here” as I rushed to pick it up. The snake wisely turned and bit me. My affection quickly extinguished, I dropped the snake and screamed “You bastard!”

(Now that I think about it, this was an accurate foreshadowing of my love life through my early 20s.)

My parents, after a moment of wondering if we needed to go to the emergency room, started laughing.

I learned something really important that day: swearing is funny.

Swearing is funny for a number of reasons, but mostly it is funny because it is unexpected. It jolts us out of the regular flow of things. It wakes us up.

I love swear words for this simple reason — I love words.

Words have long been my closest friends. I learned to read when I was three years old, and since I started working as an actor and traveling for shoots when I was four, books were more commonly my companions than other children. Whenever I was lonely, I could dive into that literary world that was populated with characters who would always be there for me. I have a deep and everlasting love affair with the written word.

That’s why I refuse to believe that some words that are “bad.” I just can’t think of them that way. (Okay, maybe except for the word “slacks” which is just a terrible word and it should be banished from the English language entirely.)

But words themselves simply can’t be good or bad. They just are, and that’s the beauty of them. They can only be infused with our intent. They can be used in ways that are beautiful or ugly or heart wrenching or enlightening. The only way I won’t use words is to degrade other people, so words that are commonly used in that way don’t show up in my work. But as for the rest of them, they are fair game in all their magical combinations.

I know some get offended when I swear. People say that I’m not a “lady” because of my language (don’t even get me started on that) and I think some people forget that I’m no longer 14 years old and so I can say whatever I’d like, which is one of the many perks of being a 36-year-old person. But I figure if I can drop the F bomb in front of my grandmother and she never flinched, no one else should get overly worked up about it.

I don’t swear because I can’t think of a different word. It’s not out of ignorance or a desire to annoy anyone. I use profanity as a punctuation mark. It brings the reader fully into the moment of the piece. It’s meant to express how I truly feel, the words come from the depths of my heart out of my fingertips and onto the keyboard. And sometimes what comes up is a curse word.

I use them sparingly, because with overuse, any word can lose its power. I use them thoughtfully, because I choose every word I put on the page with the loving care that one might use to tend a rose garden.

And I know that it makes some clutch their pearls in horror, but the simple truth is that I swear because I love my garden of words.

Even the words with thorns.

***This post was inspired by an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour. If you are not listening to it, do yourself a favor and go download immediately. It’s pure joy.***

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30 thoughts on “Pondering profanity

    • It’s always interesting to give things up for a little bit – it helps you to figure out what place you want it to have in your life. Maybe you’ll have a greater appreciation of the F bomb now. 🙂

  1. Sounds like you have done the good practice needed to swear effectively. Yes, a well-timed, well-placed “fuck” can be a thing of beauty while a string of expletives may quickly become meaningless background noise. There is a certain kind of awesome in a truly volcanic explosion of profanity but another in a single deadly adjective. It’s good to know that among your other gifts you’ve been honing your talent for invective…

  2. I almost never swear, but have no objection if others do. I just don’t want that language to slip out in front of my kids (they’ll hear enough of that language from their friends in school), nor do I want a profanity to slip out when I’m at work.

  3. “(Now that I think about it, this was an accurate foreshadowing of my love life through my early 20s.)” – perfect 😉

  4. I’m not terribly fond of swearing (never have been), but if I stub my toe, you’d better believe there will be a string of profanities spewing from my mouth. You’re right in that overuse makes them lose their power, but frankly, overuse also makes you sound trashy. But a good, well-placed swear word can really make an impact on your point.

  5. When I was 2.5, we were visiting my grandparents. I rode with my grandmother to pick up my grandfather at the office. As I sat in the backseat of the car, I said “G-d damn it.”

    My grandmother decided it would be best to ignore me rather than engage this. Not one to be ignored, I said “Grandma, you hear me? I said G-d damn it.”

    She said, “Yes, Allison, I hear you.”

    I said, “I not supposed to say oh shit, I not supposed to say G-d damn it, I supposed to say oh rats….”

    Clearly I had been lectured after listening to my Dad’s abundant use of colorful language. 🙂 Colorful language still amuses me. My sister and I love to laugh about it and we have mugs that say “good morning asshole.”

    xoxoxo, A

  6. I think swearing is a way of being honest with yourself. It is a moment – usually spontaneous- of clarity in how you really feel. I’m surrounded by people who mostly for religious reasons won’t see movies like ‘American Sniper’ or read certain books because of the language. The irony is the killing is fine with them but the language isn’t so I am often relieved to hear a good f-bomb fly in that moment of clarity.

    My niece when she was in like 4th grade came home (no swearing allowed there) and her dad asked her how her day had been at school. She paused, leaned against the wall, rolled her eyes then looked at him and said, “It was one helluva day dad. One hell of a day.” and walked on. He was caught in a moment where he wanted to scold her but all he could do was laugh.

  7. I swear far too much for a ‘lady’, but one thing I’ve never really got to grips with is swearing in front of my parents! Despite being 30, It still feels taboo. I’ve got much better at throwing in a few casual ‘bloody hells’ of late, but whenever I throw into the conversation the odd ‘shit’ or ‘shite’, I see them conveying with their eyes not to push my luck!

  8. Your story about that childhood snake encounter put a nice grin on my face. Seems we’ve had the same experience, though I was a few years older myself, and so should have known better. When I was 13 I was walking through my home town, down by the park, and spotted a garter snake, tried catching it by the tail, got bit, but unlike your encounter, my snake didn’t let go. I was walking around for about a half hour with this snake attached to my wrist, and I was afraid to yank the poor thing off just in case its’ little, pointy teeth stayed in my arm. Thankfully its’ jaw eventually got tired enough that it loosened its hold on me, and I carefully removed it, and found some bushes to release it in. Yes, I dropped the F-bomb a number of times during this little experience, mostly out of frustration in not wanting to harm the little guy.

    • I never try to swear myself because I find it poor – to me, swearing is just having a lack of a proper vocabulary. Call it ladylike behavior. I just don’t see and feel the need to express myself in such a coarse way and it doesn’t fit me. Profanity is something I don’t understand as, in my experience, it mostly covers anger and can also cover impatience and I don’t like that. I’d rather be around someone who knows how to express in an articulate way. In short, it turns me off and I find it leaving a lot to be desired. That is how I feel about it.

  9. Words are just the tools we use to communicate, they are neutral, it is how we use them that determines intent. So Screw em if they can’t take a joke swear away young lady swear away! And no it has nothing to do with your Ladyship! 🙂

  10. I really like your writings, there’s like a transparency and freshness on them I enjoy much. About your saying, I am not quite sure if I agree with the idea… I think that some words, and particularly in my native language that is Spanish, sound just terrible, so maybe they are not “bad” but sound and are physically ugly, if you know what I mean.

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