My mother used profanity, albeit her language was fairly tame by today’s standards. Her most frequent curse words were ones like “SOB” and “damn”. Never the “f” word.
Cursing was forbidden for us kids.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” my mother said.
As I matured, I eased into curse words much as I eased into drinking, where I started with Kahlua and cream, and then moved up to white-wine coolers (Sutter Home white wine and 7-Up), and then graduated to full white wine, and finally grown-up red wine. All these decades later I adore beer, and my favorite cocktail is a sidecar, and what’s not to love about a margarita or mojito? Lately, gin and sugar-free tonic water makes for a delightful keto cocktail, the latter of which I nearly consider a health food.
I was in my teens when I started writing curse words in my journal, such as “shit” and “damn”, which served as an effective pressure-release form of self-expression.
I don’t think I started actually speaking those words until I was older, probably when I started having kids. Certainly one had nothing to do with the other.
Once, when my daughter was about 2, I swore when I was using a sewing machine and the needle broke. My daughter looked up and repeated the word perfectly.
After that, I watched my mouth in front of the kids, but more and more I relaxed my expletive standards when I was in a profanity-friendly zone.
This would be good place to blame the media and movies, because as time passed, the language in films became exponentially worse. At first, every movie f-bomb felt like a slap, but eventually, I barely even noticed them. Still, I often wondered why those words were necessary. I mean, I’d already paid for a ticket, and was already sitting in the theater. It wasn’t as if I’d leave if there weren’t more curse words. I never have figured out why it’s necessary for films to have so much profanity. It doesn’t add anything. And truth to told, it still feels wrong when I watch a film where children use profanity.
The older I got, the more lax, lazy and off-color my language became, naturally, in the “right” company; yes with my sisters and adult kids; no way in front of my grandchildren. For some reason, as years passed, my curse words were often at their saltiest around my life-long women friends, also fellow cussers.
Even so, I had a double standard, because every so often I’d wince when I heard someone hurl the f-word, because it just sounded so crass. That didn’t stop me from saying it, because certainly, when I said it, it sounded more civilized.
Of course, I knew which situations were OK to cuss and which weren’t. I always felt like I got away with something when a man I didn’t know well would curse in front of me, and then apologize, because he didn’t mean to cuss in front of a “lady”. If only he knew.
Like many children, my grandkids were fascinated by taboo words, which included “shut up”, which led to the phase in my grandson’s life when “Shut Up and Dance” was my 9-year-old grandson’s favorite song, because it justified saying “shut up” — not because he was saying something bad, but because it was just part of a song.
The kids quickly figured out additional cussing loopholes, such as explaining earnestly, with reddened faces and sheepish smiles, that it was acceptable to say “ass” because it was a donkey, and “bitch” because it was a female dog.
When the kids learned to spell, terror struck my heart the day my grandson told me that he knew the four-letter “c-word”.
Thank you, Jesus.
But I knew the kids’ cussing innocence was truly over when my 6-year-old granddaughter proudly announced, “I know the f-word, the s-h-word, and the d-word.” When I asked how she knew all those words, she said, “Duh. I ride the school bus.”
Lord help us.
It’s been a few months since I gave up profanity. My cussing epiphany came one day when I was talking with my son, and I was telling some story, and I let an f-bomb fly without thinking much about it. My son – a Marine – is no prude, but I saw a flicker in his eyes that tickled a tiny nerve in my conscience.
Just like that, I silently vowed to quit cussing. However, despite my best intentions, curbing my cussing was a more formidable habit to break than I had anticipated, dang it all!
First, I used replacement words, like “freaking” and “fudge” and “sugar”. Still, every so often, before I could catch myself, I swore. I needed consequences or I’d never succeed.
That’s when I came up with the idea of the cussing jar. The concept was to put a dollar in the jar every time I said a curse word. Sometimes one bad word would lead to another, such as if I cursed, and then exclaimed, “shit!” at the realization I’d just cursed and had to pay the jar. Two dollars, please.
After a few weeks, when the bills started to really pile up, my younger son asked what I would do with all that money.
Rather than do something shameful with it, like donate it to a Nazi organization or something, I decided to use the money as a reward for my efforts at cussing cessation. I could spend the money on whatever I wanted, like a pedicure. Or a new car.
As the days wore on, I sometimes put in more money if I’d used an especially egregious word. And there was the time when I forked over $10 to the cussing jar when my son showed my grandson a video in which he’d startled me into a string of obscenities by putting a man-sized Santa mannequin in my bathroom (long story). I had to pay more because my grandson would be hearing me swear. As it turned out, my grandson was laughing so hard that he missed my ten-dollar curse word. Still, a deal’s a deal. It was money well spent.
A funny thing happened on the way to becoming cuss-free: like a former smoker who can no longer tolerate the smell of cigarette smoke, I am now hyper aware of profanity. When I hear it, I find myself assessing each word and asking myself if it feels as if that word is really necessary. Sometimes, it is. Sometimes, I think the conversation would have been better without it.
Rest assured, I’m not the cussing sheriff here, suggesting that just because I now abstain from cussing, you should, too.
Besides, I’m giving myself permission to not be a total profanity prohibitionist. Sometimes, as an adult with adult challenges, only a swear word will do.
Even so, I know I will have truly kicked the cussing habit when I stop mentally cussing in situations where I would have cussed freely before.
I will miss some of my favorite go-to cussing words and phrases, such as chickenshit, bullshit, holy shit, asshole, holy crap and what the f***. I will miss the saucy noun, verb and adjective opportunities that accompany the f-word.
I acknowledge that I might have picked a better time to quit cussing than during an election year, because I find myself reaching for the jar a few times a day to deposit a few dollars after I’ve read or heard something that causes me to feel as if I’m going to lose my mind with exasperation, so I curse.
Maybe I should start saving up for November.
I can’t predict how the November 2020 election will shake out, but I know one thing for sure: When it comes to using my discipline to curb my cussing, I’d say I’m a winner. So far, so gosh darn good.
Of course, I just used a bunch of profanity in this column, which means I owe my jar a big chunk of change.