Do you remember when, or why, you started swearing?
I don’t recall, exactly, but it was probably in college while I was learning other adult pleasures and responsibilities, such as drinking coffee and paying for my own long-distance calls. Even then, cursing was mostly for effect and never with any regularity.
In the home where I grew up, foul language was not forbidden, it was nonexistent. I have a vague memory of my mother using a swear word once late in her life, but not why or even what the word was.
My father peppered his speech — or rather, his stories — with mild interjections such as “hell’s bells,” but nothing more than that. Card games were called “Spit on your Neighbor,” dogs went outside to do their business and people sat on their behinds.
And one thing I do know for sure is that no one ever cursed at me.
One time I personally let it fly, though, was while cooking a Mexican flan. The spoon tipped out of the pan where I was caramelizing sugar and a molten gob landed on my left hand … the three steps to the cold water at the sink were among the longest in my life. I was later accused of swearing like a sailor, whatever that really means.
Yet I have to admit that I’ve been cursing more in the last few years — mostly when I can’t find something or when I somehow hurt myself (see above). Words have leapt from my mouth that surprised even me the first few times, but having broken that barrier, they slip out more easily now in place of what used to be something like, “Wow, what a bummer.”
And that’s only part of it. Swearing is rampant and spreading like an epidemic. Words that used to be followed by mouthfuls of soap are now regularly chanted at hockey games. Epithets most foul litter language on the big screen as well as the little ones in our living rooms. Coffee houses sound like the proverbial locker rooms. And don’t even get me started on social media!
All this makes me wonder why, indeed, we tolerate — and sometimes engage in — such unrestrained swearing. For me, I think that no matter how much I’ve always disliked foul language, I’m getting numb to it.
Swearing, like sex and violence, has become gratuitous in our popular culture. Curse words from my youth have completely lost their power to shock. So it’s on to the next and the next, and I don’t believe I am the only one who’s troubled by this trend.
That’s why I’m taking my one small step to stop. I just don’t like the way swearing makes me feel.
For one thing — although this never actually happened — I can picture my mother swooping down on me with a “WHAT-did-you-just-say?” look on her face. Another important reason is that most people I respect simply don’t curse as a matter of course. So, if and when they do swear, by golly, it means something. And, darn it, that’s how I want people to think of me, too.
Want to join me on this one giant step for humankind?
Andrea Doray is a writer whose friends think it’s charming when she says “dang” instead of … well, you know. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.