It is, I must admit, a personal failing, but from a tender age I have been an incorrigible potty mouth. The sacred, the scatological, the scurrilous, and the salty upholster my daily language in shades of shocking blue. Few terms are too vile, no rate of repetition too high. I am a world-class vulgarian in tasteful pumps.
Given the deep, wide streak of New England Puritanism in my background, my preference for profanity might at first seem a bit surprising. My grandparents almost never swore (with the notable exception of Grandpa Harvey, but he limited himself almost exclusively to goddammit and ferchrissakes). My parents, however, were considerably looser with language, and as a result I grew up in a much more colorful environment where shit, asshole, and Jesus H. Christ were the coin of the linguistic realm.
In addition to being descended from witch burners, I am also a student of language and have even taught English and French at various times. This makes me something of a word geek, but more important it means I can curse proficiently in not one, but two languages. In fact, I take a certain pride in my ability to use terminology correctly, put the occasional new spin on an old favorite, and insert dirty words into conversation to their best effect – all within the precise grammatical strictures of whichever language I happen to be sullying at the time.
And yet, the inescapable truth is that society frowns upon the obscene and the blasphemous, no matter how artfully placed or appropriately chosen the words. In the wrong setting, the errant conversational fuck can have the impact of a fart in church or a turd in the proverbial swimming pool. So why do it?
Purely for pleasure. Dirty words feel good rolling around in the mouth and even better tripping off the tongue. Consider douche bag, or the current, shorthand version, douche. Go on say it. “What a douche!” So much more evocative and satisfying than “What a jerk.” I find this holds true, too, for similar terms, such as dick, prick, numb nuts, or tool.
I’ll admit I also enjoy the challenge of seeing how many profanities I can string together in one long chain of obscenity a la George Carlin’s “shit-piss-fuck-cunt-cocksucker- motherfucker-tits.” It has a certain flow, does it not?
There is also a real sense of satisfaction in discovering how to put a new spin on an old favorite. For example, the always reliable fries my ass becomes chaps my ass or makes my ass ache. The permutations and extensions of shit are nearly endless: shit head, shit heel, shit face, shit bag, bullshit, horse shit, bat shit, rat shit, shitcan, in the shitter, for shit’s sake, holy shit.
Really, I could do this all day.
I also appreciate the wonderful range of possible pronunciations – ass in the U.S. is arse in the UK; American shit becomes Irish shite. Canadian French takes swearing well beyond the usual merde or foutre by rendering the sacred profane with such terms as calvaire and tabarnak. My ultimate favorite is the evocative and extremely trashy (even by my standards) face de cul, or ass face. You’ll never hear that one bandied about at the Académie Française, but you can’t avoid it in the streets, taverns, and WWE fan club meetings of the French‐speaking city of Lewiston, Maine on any given Saturday night.
In truth, I don’t entirely trust people who never curse; there’s a certain rigidity of spine and, quite often, a malodorous whiff of sanctimony about them. “Oh fudge,” they exclaim after whacking a thumb with a ball peen hammer. “What the hurly burly do you want now?” the overwrought mother implores her whining, Ritalin-addled offspring on the eighth consecutive indoor-play day of winter break. “Holy Christmas!” cries the unhappy minivan owner whose pristine paint job has just been scraped all to heck by some joyriding rednecks in a thirty-year-old pick-up held together with NRA bumper stickers, Bondo, and baling wire.
In these cases and so many more, the judicious use of filthy invective goes a long way toward easing the strain, while also communicating a certain seriousness of purpose to the listener. Consider: Which would you be more concerned about being responsible for in the workplace, a problem or a cluster fuck? I think we both know the answer to that one. Similarly, “What the fucking hell do you think you’re doing, you stupid goddamned dipshit?” has a certain stopping power that the sinless version lacks. And describing one’s boss as a fuckwad, scumbag or rat bastard is far more gratifying than say, bad person, meanie, or stinker. In short, there are times when you want to be offensive in a very adult way. I would even go so far as to say there are times when you need to. Or at least I do.
I remember back in graduate school, my boyfriend, a Zepplin aficionado, arrived at my apartment to the strains of Phil Collins on the stereo. (It was the ‘80s, what can I say?) “Isn’t that your favorite little dickhead?” he inquired. “Oh sweetie,” I replied. “You know you’re my favorite little dickhead, and my number one motherfucking son of a bitch, too.” It was a difficult relationship. Mercifully it was also brief.
These days, however, owing to my advancing age and the need to amass some dignity, I have been trying to cut down on my habit, though with limited success. I suppose it’s because in this addiction I’m like the smoker with a two-pack-a-day habit who regularly lights up a new gasper from the butt end of the old one. As such, even reducing the naughty talk presents a challenge, especially in my world of rapidly disappearing, soon-to-be-verboten vices. At this point meat, coffee, sugar, salt, french-fried food, full-fat anything, un-prescribed pharmaceuticals, and yes, even alcohol have been put on the watch list. Soon, I have no doubt, all of them will rise to the top of the roster of thrillingly catastrophic life choices, on a par with unprotected sex, hitchhiking in the deep south, and investigating that weird sound in the cellar while babysitting.
And so I find I cling rather fiercely to the last remaining excess available to me. Swearing is neither expensive nor unhealthy. It rates a zero on the glycemic index and is entirely chemical free. It offers immediate gratification, costs not one dime, can be immediately and continuously recycled and thus creates no storage problems. It’s VEGAN ferchrissake.