swearing in cartoon

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BIL taught his now six year old son to swear and because he is a man, he tried to hide it from my sister, DNOS. But, as is nearly always the case, his son let the cat off his tongue one day when another driver cut them off in traffic and he hollered out, “Dumb-ass!” DNOS professed shock but I think that is only because he beat her to it. Road rage is part, albeit small, of the glue that holds her marriage to BIL so firmly. After a bit of questioning, she was able to ascertain that her son did indeed learn the offensive word from his dad, and that he was well versed in the lexicon of the profane. When I told Rob this story the first time, he laughed, “Of course he needs to swear. He’ll be a man someday.” And when the subject came up again this last week he made a remark to the effect that swearing is a man thing and perfectly acceptable.

I really don’t swear very much anymore. I made a conscious effort to give it up when I took my first teaching job twenty years ago. My colorful expressions run the gamut of g-rated Disneyesque phrases that convey the intent without offense in addition to making me look like someone’s born-again spinster aunt. Though I occasionally swear, more since Will’s illness and death, I really don’t see the need to swear.

I listen to profanity all day long. I work in a high school after all, and the casual use of the word “fuck” is omnipresent from first bell to last. It never fails to send shivers up my back akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. Though it is a multi-functioning word, as far as usage goes, it always makes me wonder what kind of trailer the person who uttered it was raised in, single or doublewide? And I know exactly how unkind and judgmental a statement that is, but I simply haven’t much faith that someone who can’t come up with a synonym or witty figurative phrase to use in its place is worth the time or effort to educate further.

Canadians, I am told, are pretty foul-mouthed. When I wondered aloud if perhaps this was overstating the fact, I was assured that it wasn’t. Since I have a tendency to adopt the speech patterns of those I hear most (I have acquired quite the drawl since coming to south-central Iowa in fact) I am a bit worried that I might revert to the vocabulary of my younger self.

It’s not that “fuck” is a limited term. It can be used as a noun as in “What the fuck?”. It is a verb. “Stop fucking around and get to work.” An adjective. “Who is that fucking moron?” And an adverb. “I fucking did it all myself.” It can express a strong emotion like anger, “Fuck you!” or a tender romantic one as in “I really want to fuck you.” But, it still just conjures up images of the chain smoking, tattooed parents of the students I first taught on the east side of Des Moines. People who never made it out of middle school themselves and so their greatest ambition for their own children ….graduating the eighth grade….manifested in limos and prom-like attire for the twenty minute ceremony and the cookies and punch reception that followed in a makeshift cafeteria that doubled as the auditorium.

Profanity is really the hallmark of three things: stupidity, laziness and a tendency to be dramatic, and not in a good way. When we give into the casual use of obscene language, we are sanctioning these things.

I must confess that I have carelessly taught my own child a “bad word”. She says “dang-it”. Only very quick and clever damage control after a burst of frustration with a recalcitrant computer one afternoon prevented her from the regular use of a quite similar expression. She says “dang-it” when she is angry or frustrated, and objects that make her angry or frustrated are “dang-it things”. For example “Mommy, these dang-it shoes won’t tie.”

Language can elevate or bury us. So it is my humble opinion that we use care and consideration when speaking and do our best not to be dumb-asses about it.

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