As a class-A potty mouth, I’m not bothered by this kind of language.
Cursing can be reflexive (“Damnit!”), expressive (“Go to hell”), amplifying (“Go to hell, you bastard”) or funny (“You wouldn’t know funny if it crawled up your ass and laid eggs”).
This isn’t just an excuse for my own Scarface vocabulary. I like hearing other people curse too. When it’s simply crass (“That CD sounds like shit”), it’s just harsh and tedious. But hearing Exhibit A express his/her feelings about Exhibit B by narrowing his/her eyes and saying, “fucker,” soft as cotton but sharp as pins, well, it just fills me with idiot glee. Context, as usual, is everything.
Not everyone feels this way, especially James O’Connor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing (Three Rivers Press, 239 pp., $12.95). With chapter titles like “Cut the Shit, Now and Forever,” O’Connor does not come off as some crotchety, cobwebbed old prude. He accepts the fact that people curse, states that it’s either casual (a reflex) or causal (something happens that makes us do it), but thinks we’re just not using our huge array of verbal options.
Since politeness pretty much consists of making other people feel comfortable, O’Connor’s goal is to make us, well, a little more polite. He even cites a couple of states that have laws against offensive language. And in a chapter titled “Casual Cussing: It’s Not the Words, It’s the Attitude,” he offers: “It’s ... unwise to swear at your mother, your employer, the person you’re sleeping with on a regular basis or anyone who appears to be heavily armed.”
An article in a recent Allure magazine titled “Quit Your Bitchin’” offers tips from O’Connor’s book and names some beautiful Hollywood actresses whose loveliness masks an affinity for toilet talk. This could appear to send a mixed message, but again, it depends on the context. Personally, I think a woman who speaks her mind unself-consciously is more attractive than one who offers a cutesy, contrived Scarlett O’Hara “oh, fiddle-dee-dee.” But maybe I have to rethink that. Damnit.
O’Connor’s book is written with a light hand and does offer some interesting insights from a behavioral perspective.
The fun part, however, is his suggestions for alternatives to our meager handful of dirty words. In the Allure article, writer Rory Evans notes that in using them, “Unfortunately, you run the risk of sounding like Ned Flanders.”
Swear to tell the truth
As a substitute for what Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom calls “the brown word,” O’Connor suggests “fecal matter” (technical), “butt muffin” or “night soil” (euphemistic), “Nerts!” (expletive) or “That’s baloney” (complete sentence).
Personally, I like “Nerts!” and “Criminy!,” another offering, but those vintage terms from the Beaver Cleaver era invariably make you sound cute and colorful, especially if you can convincingly say things like “love and junk.” But some of the subs are problematic. I know my own mom doesn’t have a problem with the real word, but if she ever heard me say “butt muffin,” her next words would be, “Daughter? I have no daughter.” (This is a woman who calls other women “broads.” )
There is also a section on name-calling.
If you have to do it, a few suggested terms are “clodhopper,” “pariah,” “deadbeat,” “weasel,” “viper,” “floozy,” “Queen Bee,” “oaf,” “lummox,” and “galoot.” It’s all good.
Naturally, a whole chapter is devoted to the big “F,” which O’Connor suggests is satisfying to say because of that “hard ‘k’ sound” at the end. Since I throw this one out like a sprinkler, I was interested in the substitutes, which O’Connor suggests could be “crack,” “kick” or “knock.” Imagine: I lock my keys in my car and try the alternative. “Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!” Bystander with fecal-matter-eating grin asks, “Who’s there?” I see more potential for violence here than if the natural “F” had appeared.
O’Connor also suggests soothing therapies such as yoga and meditation to make us calmer and less likely to explode like a smut-filled verbal volcano. He also theorizes that perfectionism — getting angry at ourselves — makes us swear. And while “even being organized and practical doesn’t always work,” it would help if we didn’t “procrastinate, left on time, read directions,” etc. In other words, we could clear the air considerably if we, and others, weren’t such a bunch of ... baloneyheads.
Oh, knock it. Who’s going to kicking understand me if I talk this night soil?
It’s one thing to be clean. It’s better to be clear.Liz Langley writes for the Orlando Weekly. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org