So, I was grilling a steak Saturday night when the back of my hand came in contact with the metal grill lid. The pain was immediate. There was even a nice sizzling sound to verify that my flesh was being charred.
It took only a split second for my pain receptors to register the agony, but there was one brain function that was even quicker — the part that decides which swear word I should use in reaction to the assault.
I feel that I chose wisely. Before I had even pulled my blistering hand away from the grill, I had announced my displeasure to the world in one short, guttural and immensely helpful word.
You know the one. You’re probably saying it under your breath right now, aren’t you? Dirty bird. It’s like you WANT your mouth washed out with soap.
The Word has reigned for hundreds of years as the mother of all forbidden utterances. Little children still in diapers learn to say it because they hear their mothers barking it all day long around the house. It must be a great word indeed, they reason, because why else would mommy use it while hanging drapes, while doing laundry and then some more while just sitting there in front of the TV, drinking wine?
So the precious little darling will spend long hours practicing, working to get his throat, tongue and lips working together just so in preparation for the day when he can finally voice The Word for the first time.
And when that magical day comes, the kid knows he did it right because mommy’s face goes pale, everyone in the room gasps and the family never dares to go back to that church again.
A very powerful thing is this filthy, filthy word. People use it to express pain, glee or frank amazement over the wonders of the world. Its various forms are used as adjectives, verbs (both transitive and intransitive,) adverbs, nouns, interjections and, in the right situation, gerunds, whatever the #[email protected]%! those are.
This nasty word is always there to fill in when no other word will do, whether you’ve struck your thumb with a hammer or you just can’t believe how stupid your co-worker is. It’s a magical word and yet over recent years, I’ve completely fallen out of love with it.
It’s not you, filthy word. It’s me.
The problem, in my view, is over-saturation. Back in the day, you had to go to a pool hall, a union rally or a men’s prison to hear the vile word being used both abundantly and correctly.
Then the motion picture industry relaxed its rules and suddenly movie people were using the word in every other sentence. Even on cable television, services like HBO or Showtime began beaming heaping helpings of the word straight into living rooms everywhere.
Kids tittered and demanded of their parents: If Nick Nolte can say it, why can’t we?
The internet came along, and people scattered all over the globe began sharing the mystical secrets of the forbidden word with one another in forums and AOL chat rooms. Social media sprang upon the world like a hideous, brain-devouring disease and swearing wasn’t just tolerated, it was downright required.
The word went mainstream and the talismanic spell of it was broken. If some 12-year-old, pierced-nose gamer on a World of Warcraft board can use it four times in a single sentence, just how cool can it be?
These days, the word is used more out of laziness than out of any sort of respect for the power of cussing. You hear it in the Walmart checkout line all the time and without any finesse whatsoever. You hear it on the streets from women with babies in strollers. Kids say it on playgrounds and parents don’t even bother whooping them for it.
I’ve grown to hate the word because it has become a symbol less of saltiness and more of ignorance. It ought to be returned to the people who really need it. Namely, sailors, carpenters, auto mechanics, street gangsters and people who have dropped heavy objects on their feet.
So, in recent weeks I’ve been trying to quit the vile habit of cussing and I find that it’s as hard as giving up crack-flavored heroin. The problem is that when you’ve been swearing your whole life, your brain is wired a certain way. When you stub your toe on that #[email protected]%! coffee table for the hundredth time, your brain isn’t going to spend a millisecond searching for a sparkling clean way to scream your toe’s agony. Why would it? When that tried-and-true, fun-to-say syllable is right there waiting to fly like a spear off the tongue?
I go to the grocery store and realize I’ve forgotten my wallet. The word flies out before I can even consider an alternative way to describe my own stupidity. Brain power required: zero.
An editor assigns me to cover the Fruit Salad Lovers Peachy Good Annual Meet Up when there is street crime afoot. No time to dig out the thesaurus, my friends, only that one word can encompass all of my feelings on the matter.
The other day I spent six hours trying to fix a borked Android phone. Do you think I made it through that ordeal without some righteous swearing? If that word were a dart, everyone in my neighborhood would be dead.
It’s hard to quit, I tell you, but after numerous failed attempts and many bars of soap eaten, I believe I’ve found a way around this #[email protected]%! addiction.
I’m learning to swear in French.