February 20, 2018


When I was five, I would bury my face in a throw pillow on the living room couch and quietly recite my limited lexicon of "cuss words".  It gave me a sense of satisfaction, not just because I had gotten away with a high crime at that age, but because the words themselves were satisfying to say.  I never got the sense that this had anything to do with God, who lived outside in the sky above the next-door neighbor's old poplar tree and who looked exactly like Dick Clark, but taller.  Saying the words didn't seem immoral.  I just didn't want to get spanked.

Profanity holds allure for children; they're getting away with something that would be frowned upon or punished.  Teens use it to rebel.  But adults ... we have to have different reasons, don't we?  Our collection of words is expansive and we can discern the consequences of using them, from mere irreverence and offense to personal debasement and deep hurt.  Morality does come into it on that basis, and here is where the fork in the road is found:  Morality for its own concrete, self-proving sake, or morality defined by flexible context and circumstances?

Let the religions debate morality for generations, since they feel it's in their exclusive purview.  (It isn't.)  Uttering profanity is not intrinsically immoral.

I think I enjoy cursing so much because I wasn't allowed to do it for far too long.  I didn't allow myself, as a good Christian, but I did it anyway, and then beat myself up and asked for forgiveness so regularly that God, if existent, would have considered it ambient noise.  Guilty pleasure was far heavier on the "guilty".  I was trying to keep my true self from breaking through the packed-down soil and sprouting in the sunlight.

The guilt fell away when the rest of my ersatz moral constructs collapsed and the sun shone on me.  Now there's just pleasure.  I love profanity.  I use it early and often.  I still stay within the confines of social conformity, to the extent needed to keep from injuring others.  But when I'm in a safe environment and no harm will be done, it flies freely.  It turns out I have a talent for it.  And if no other justification existed, there is this:  I do tech support.  Cursing like an unshaven sailor on a three-day bender is a required qualification.  It's how I know I'm in the right career field.

I gave it ten good, mostly clean years with my son; after that, nothing was held back.  He's pretty talented himself, though a bit more creativity is needed around the edges.  We consider our home a place where he can leave the world behind and be fully himself, and that includes letting F-bombs land all over the house.  It feels good.  It releases stress.  It's a form of honesty.  It gives us a family bond that says, "We know what matters in the world and this isn't it.  There are evils and this is not, inherently, one of them."

It's not a popular parenting style, from my observations.  But no matter, that.  I was inspired to emulate this approach to family life by my best friend and her family.  That same kitchen table where Uncle Jack would sit also sometimes sat my best friend, her parents and me, when I was invited to dinner.  It was always steak and mashed potatoes and buttered green peas, with a bottle of Heinz 57 sauce on the table.  We would begin eating, and my friend would give her father, sitting directly across from her, the finger.  Her father would say with indignation, "Ellie, she just flipped me off," and my friend's mother would sigh with resignation and say, "Don't do that to your father."  "Sorry, Mama."  Another bite of steak, some potato.  Then her father would flip her the bird right back.  "Mama!  Daddy just did it to me!"

I watched all of this transpire with a one-sided grin of fascination.  My best friend was so polite in "real life" and I didn't see how this dichotomy could exist.  She was safe in her home and didn't get in trouble.  How could this possibly be?  Wrong is wrong.  Er, isn't it?

My kid long ago developed the ability to shift gears and suppress curse-all-you-want mode, just another communication style, when he walks out of our front door each day.  He knows he'll be able to return soon to the Safe Zone and let it all hang out.  He knows that when he's up in his room, shouting at his laptop while wearing headphones, and I stomp to the foot of the staircase and yell, "SHUT THE FUCK UP!  JESUS CHRIST!" I actually mean, "Dear child of mine, I would be ever-so-grateful if you could be considerate and decrease your vocal volume to an acceptable level, thank you."  And when he shouts back, "HANG ON, I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING BOSS BATTLE!" I know he means, "Oh dear, I didn't realize I was being obnoxiously loud, it's these headphones, you see, please forgive me, it won't happen again."

P.J. can out-swear me without breaking a sweat.

Even the dogs are into it.  When Rose is outside barking her fool head off, we can call her sweetly in a sing-song voice, and she doesn't even notice us.  But if I push the dog door open with my foot so she can hear me and yell, "ROSE GOD DAMN IT GET YOUR STUPID ASS IN HERE RIGHT NOW AND STOP FUCKING BARKING," she comes happily trotting in, wagging her tail because all is right with the world.  She actually likes it.  I'm miffed that this does not seem to work on people.

These words, they're syllables with mouthfeel, compact bursts of expression and release, paradoxically composed of arbitrarily strung-together letters that have been designated as foul and, in some places, publicly illegal.  And I agree that they can be hurtful, and that being needlessly offensive isn't a great idea.  But there are merits to letting loose great strings of profanity.  Things are released that would be bottled-up poison in the mind.  It's healthy.  Even religion has, on the whole, come to terms with a nightly glass of wine.  It just needs to make the leap to a nightly glass of relaxing cussin' that makes a person live to a ripe, old age.

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