The title to this post is a phrase from my childhood (who exactly used it, I don’t remember) as a creative, and safe, way to swear. Much closer to “oh darn” than to the dreaded F-Bomb, but still deliciously naughty to a six year old mind.

I found myself thinking about that last night while shopping in Wal-mart and over hearing a profanity laced conversation between two people. And by “over hear” I don’t mean I happened to be passing by to hear the hushed whisperings of two strangers. I over heard them as they shouted across the soda aisle, trying to determine what f’n flavor they wanted, which brand was the best f’n deal, and what now defunct brand was ‘so f’n good’.

It was a man and a woman, with the man being the loudest by far, though his wife?/girlfriend?/mixed martial arts training partner? certainly gave him a run for his money.

Don’t get me wrong, I swear fairly regularly myself. There are the people who think cursing is no big deal and how people should just get over it, and the people who think it’s bad, and a sign of an uncultured, unintelligent, and uncreative mind. I sit happily on the fence between them and wave merrily at both sides because I see the validity of both points of view.

Let’s face it, that kind of language is rude, unsophisticated, and in almost any case, highly disrespectful to your audience. I’m 28 years old and I still can’t intentionally curse in front of my parents. And if I do let one slip, I inwardly cringe and wait for my punishment. This, in all likelihood, stems from the time I flipped my dad off when I was about 7 (at a guess, 7 or 8 for sure). I was being told (good naturedly) that it was bed time, and as I was leaving the living room to do so, my dad made fun of my snoring. With a laugh, I looked back over my shoulder, turned my body slightly, extended my left arm, and raised that most naughty of fingers.

To this day I can remember seeing my dad’s expression go from confusion, to shock, to fury. Then my vision refocused on my finger, which was still in the air (lord help me put the finger down man!), and while I didn’t know exactly what this gesture really meant, I knew in that instant it was not something I wanted to be directing at my father.

After escorting me to bed, he demanded if I knew what that meant (deny, deny, deny), and where I had learned such a thing (for whatever reason, my cousin John was the only name that came to mind, so I threw him under the bus without hesitation even though in reality I have no clue where I learned such a thing…still don’t today). After that, there was a long discussion of why it was bad, and a great many reasons why I should never do that again (though the look on his face when he got off the couch was more than reason enough).

So, yes, that has stuck with me all these years, so even when my parents have relaxed their rules on swearing for their adult children, it’s still odd, and rare, for me to break the rules as they were back then.

Of course, when they’re not around, that’s another story.  I don’t think my swearing is excessive, but in many cases, it’s not exactly necessary either. Ultimately, it’s just a pattern I’ve fallen into. Yet, it’s one I also try to be aware of. Maybe it means I’m lazy if I can’t take the time to think of another word to express my feelings, but there are many times when a four letter word has just the emphasis I’m looking for in a given situation. In that respect, I don’t think cursing is indicative of an uncultured mind, and most certainly not an uncreative one. I know many people who could be consider virtuosos of four letter words. Who can use them more creatively than I could ever hope to write.

Looking at it that way is why people who have that kind of ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards swear words bother me. To me, they’re a part of language that does indeed have a place in this world.

However, that place is NOT being shouted across a Wal-mart aisle, or pretty much anywhere else for the general public to hear. Which is why people who just don’t give a… well, you know… about other people’s opinions on the matter also bother me. The desire to be able to go to a store and not have to worry about hearing terms you find offensive from five aisles away is a reasonable one. If you want to swear every other word in the dairy section of Wal-mart (and with the price of milk these days, I’m right there with you), that’s fine by me, if it’s in a one to one conversation. But at least show some common courtesy and decency to do it at a level that people aren’t going to overhear. If you can’t talk that low, is it really that much of a stretch to drop the expletives from your vocabulary for the thirty seconds other people happen to wander by?

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This is also making me think about how I use swear words in my writing. And again, it’s really a matter of “time and place for everything”. In 7th grade, someone asked the English teacher if it was ok to use swear words. She told us she would prefer us not to, but if we could justify it within the context of the story, it was ok. That’s the rule I’ve lived by ever since. Used randomly, it can really detract from a story. Used effectively, it can add realism and impact to your work. The key there, as with everything else, is balance.

So how about you? Yay or nay to swearing in your writing? How about in every day life? Any virtuosos out there?

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