(Stock photo found online; photographer unknown.)
So I thought about this topic today after having had a friend come over with his associate to share a business venture with me. Towards the end of the meeting, we started talking about a business partnership that I had that went sour, and naturally, my olden days corporate straitjacket stray threads completely unraveled, and I threw out the F-word. I didn’t think about it until after they’d left, but the conversation replayed in my head, and I realized that yes, I plopped the bomb, all rich-and-buttery-fingered-like, and rolled on.
So, most of my circles of friends don’t know this, but I am a recovering cursaholic. I had to clean up my act before my children became preteens—just in the nick of time—but I still dabble in the habit. I’m not going to lie, it feels great when I can freestyle expletives. It’s like, “Home sweet home, muthafuckas!” It really is.
I never really felt the badness of it. To me, it’s always been like making hand gestures (though not necessarily that one) while speaking – you’re shaping your ideas, punctuating your points, expressing your splashes of emotion.
“Are you fucking shitting me?!”
“No fucking way!”
“What. the fuck. are you doing, damn Asian driver?!” (What can I say – my mom’s a terrible driver…)
Still, it’s not generally desirable, I know, because when I hear someone cuss in public, I can’t help but think, “You are one vulgar bastard.” So, I try not to do it either, because I don’t want to be a vulgar bastardette, but at the same time, I don’t mean any harm – I just get excited sometimes, and when I do, my excitement flings out from every pore and crevice (and by the way, one doesn’t need curse words to be vulgar).
To me, cursing is just exclaiming. Sometimes, you can’t exclaim quietly. I personally don’t believe in quiet exclamations, except if you’re in danger and hiding. Or in church or the library (and who’s exclaiming in the library, no matter how good the book is?), but that’s it.
Curse words are just sounds representing an emotion from a plethora of unutterable thoughts. Like in this scene from “The Wire”:
See? No harm no foul (except for the murder they were investigating).
I don’t even think that calling someone an “asshole” is necessarily offensive. First of all, it’s clearly figurative, because a person can’t literally be an anus – it’s ridiculous to even try to imagine it. Secondly, such a name is usually earned by the dubbed person having done (or perceived to have done) something bad to someone else. It’s mud-slinging but not blood-drawing.
I think what is more offensive is the use of socially accepted words that are, in context, meant to be judgmental and/or degrading. I know someone who had a girlfriend who would call him a loser because he didn’t finish college. This really cut into his self-esteem, and that seems to have been the goal. (Such use of non-curse words surely earns the utterer to be dubbed the B- or A-word, yes?) And this is one of many non-curse words that can be used with meaning and motive to hurt in ways sticks and stones could never reach.
If expletives were no longer sensationalized, insults might be much more creative and eloquent:
“He had delusions of adequacy.” — Walter Kerr
“He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” — Forrest Tucker
“Way down deep, he’s shallow.” — Various
(I chose these, by the way, because they are still usable today.)
Nonetheless, certain modern situations require more:
You’ve been tailgated in traffic for the past few lights. The car behind you is honking and flashing his lights, and you are already driving 15 above the limit. Suddenly, your tailgater swerves around your car, gives you the finger as he screams expletives (and you are not my mother, by the way), then speeds up to cut you off.
Clearly, a “fuck you, asshole!” is in order here – quick, explosive (goes perfectly with shouting, as is required in fleeting exchanges through opened—and sometimes closed—windows), and no fillers. (By the way, I prefer “motherfucker” in this instance – much sharper and more appropriately aggressive in such a situation; using “asshole” here sounds like your feelings are hurt – weakness is unfitting in road rage battles.)
It is not for everyone, I know. But for those with particularly burstful emotions, cursing is almost a necessary evil. In fact, for such individuals, cursing saves money and curbs physical violence. I don’t know how many things in my “yoot” didn’t get broken because I could fuckity-fuck it out of my system. I wasn’t a mean or crazy person – I just happened to feel and think in light speed and vivid colors, and I was very physical = I’m just glad I had the sense to find the buffering grace of violent verbiage.
Still, I have evolved to cut back. Everything is softer with me now because I have children, and I don’t want to inadvertently hurt them with my sharpness. Besides, society is not kosher with public cursing, and it is more important to me to not offend others in everyday interactions with something that might be mistaken for vulgar bastardness. It’s nice, actually. Nobody bastardizing everywhere you go. I suppose it is like making out: people do it, but nobody wants to see it out in the open. I can eff with that.