The Gift of Effing Gab

If off-color language offends you, move along. Nothing to read here.

I swear. A lot. Always have and, in all likelihood, despite – say – 40 New Year’s resolutions, always will. From the moment my grandmother, in her inimitable way, told 12-year-old me the meaning of the word “snatch,” I’ve been hooked. Snatch. What a great word. Memories of my mother’s and grandmother’s giggles about their own irreverence, particularly in the presence of the next naughty generation, made the whole enterprise that much more alluring. I don’t imagine they intended that moment to serve as tacit approval of a life with a foul mouth, but in a way, it really was. Two smart, strong women deftly demonstrating the grace of employing colorful, linguistic shortcuts…I definitely wanted to get me some of that.

And I got it in abundance.

There is a perception that through language we convey who we are and from where we came, both of which shape our status. At least that has been the case for the generations that preceded ours. Jim suggests that swearing has been like an accent, a quick indicator of what to expect from the deliverer. In today’s nomenclature, that would be profiling, yes? In reality, we should no more think we know the limits of a person’s intelligence by the words s/he chooses to use than we should assume a teenager’s intent by the color of her or his skin. We have to evolve past the stronghold of the past, and we can. Think about it. Friday casual is now the daily standard, replacing the formality of the suit and tie (thank you Silicon Valley), Converse All-Stars are not just for social outliers, and the definition of good music is no longer reserved for what is created on sheet music. Maybe it’s time to realize that “fuck” is the new and improved “damn.”

Indeed, cursing is evolving, both by definition and in terms of acceptance, and social media, mecca of fact that it is, is saying so. Highlighted with increasing frequency is the misperception that people who swear are uneducated, lazy, and/or classless. On the contrary, they say, there is something special about people who curse. According to Psychologists Explain Why You Should Be Friends With People Who Swear A Lot, “People who use taboo words understand their general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions that must be drawn to use slurs appropriately,” indicating “the presence of more rather than less linguistic knowledge.” Further, “those who [use] swear words [are] more likely to be honest.”

Honesty and intelligence notwithstanding, I must admit that I don’t often plan for the words – colorful or not – that come barreling out of my mouth. An explosive combination of emotion, thought, and human connection jump-starts the flow, and it is almost beyond my power to shut down the ignition. It’s like my brain is a roulette wheel, and conversation is an opportunity to make the ball land. Red, black, odd, even…doesn’t matter, just anything to pause the spinning thoughts. Why swearing figures so prominently in these moments, I can only speculate, but I’m thinking it has something to do with knowing that there is limited time before that dastardly wheel starts up again.

For the most part, swears are short words, even earning them a monopoly on the “four-letter-words” market over innumerable words of equal length. So, why not rely on them when time is of the essence and the dealer’s hand is looming large? As the article suggests, though, it’s not just about spitting something out quickly. Rather, I try to convey my thoughts and the emotions behind them in as few, nuanced words as possible, and cursing is a great facilitator. Not even the purest of puritans can deny that “fuck!” is far more efficient than, “I am feeling quite upset about that.” Case in point, if I exclaim “fuck,” then you know I’m annoyed. “If I say, “shit” or “mutherfucker,” then you know I m annoyed AND that I screwed up something or perhaps think someone else did. Regardless of the expletive, if you really know me, you also understand that they all serve as a call to action of my problem-solving skills.

Then again, it’s not always about what needs to happen next. “Fuck” is effectively used in a million different sentences about a million different topics expressing a million different emotions. It’s just that good in its versatility. (They’ve even made a film about it: Proper English – The Many Uses of the F word. If you have gotten this far here and haven’t yet watched it, please do.) So why, in this time of über-efficiency when results are expected in nanoseconds, isn’t “fuck” embraced as the smartphone of its genre: an ideal instrument for the enhancement of human productivity and purpose. Seriously, we could cut out a whole lot of wasted time and…well…bullshit, if we not only accepted it but recognized the exceptional and effective use of “fuck.”

Speaking of acceptable use of language, I want to meet the people who wrote the first – and apparently last – edition of the Rulebook of Swearing. Really, I do, because it is interesting to me how certain words are verboten when others aren’t. Who made it so? Take, for example, “crap” or “crud.” An esteemed colleague, who doesn’t use curse words for religious reasons, says “crap” and “crud” like there’s no tomorrow, and yet nobody takes offense (apparently including his church). Why is that? Because “shit” and “fuck” are phonetically harsher? Because the British mothership said so? Because our mommies told us they were bad words? Really, he and I use our words with the same frequency and in the same way, and yet he’s practically lauded as sweet for keeping it clean, while I’m some kind of heathen. Hell – I mean heck – they’re all four-letter words, no?

I’ve been accused of swearing for shock value. Huh. I guess when your grandmother teaches you “snatch,” your shock-scale is forever skewed, because that certainly is not my intent. My hope always is that when talking with someone new or old that we will try to make the trip to getting real an abbreviated one. Truth be told, when someone I’m chatting with throws in an F-bomb or some other juicy nugget, I feel a hundred steps closer to the version of themselves that isn’t choreographed or buffed and shined for public presentation. Being real, in my book, is THE under-recognized and under-valued factor when trying to get shit done.

By the way, if you haven’t yet watched George Carlin’s bit on stuff (and shit), it’s a must watch.

Anyhooo. Where the fuck was I?

I’ve kept a watchful eye on whether women and men are held to a different standard when it comes to cursing. In the educational workplace, it’s pretty equal. Socially? Not so much. Gratefully, I don’t give a rat’s ass, so there’s that. Nevertheless, given that it’s best not to waste your time with people that worry won’t like you, I have come to appreciate that there is no better way to separate the wheat from the chaff than by effing your way through a conversation. Men are shocked and usually indicate as much by being dismissive. Some women seem taken aback, too, but that feels more about concern over how the others might feel about it than how they necessarily feel themselves. Rationalization for my brethren women? Maybe.

What I do know is that when I’m with my Westover posse, when we are the realest versions of ourselves, our topics of conversation and four-letter-word vocabularies would make a sailor blush. Who knows, perhaps it was our all-girls school experience that gave root to our colorful leanings. More likely, though, it has more to do with the fact that we let each other be who we are, feel what we feel, and say whatever we damn well please. We are focused on hearing one another, and so word choice never derails our conversations. I am sure, even (especially?) in the throes of the non-stop deployment of four-letter-words, that I am at my absolute best when I am in the company of these highly-educated, exceptionally inspired, and completely classy women.

For any range of reasons, people do not swear. I get that, and I certainly don’t hold it against them. But I do swear – am committed to it, in fact – and I find myself decreasingly interested in being in any situation where I feel like my acceptance is at risk because of my vocabulary. Doing the proper thing in this regard feels kind of like having to attend a masquerade ball and no longer wanting to dance. It’s not a lack of respect for what helps others feel comfortable, it’s just that more and more, the corset simply feels too tight to withstand.

Speaking of that garment of yore, it, too, once was an indicator of class, intellect, and all-around social status. Ultimately and gratefully, we wizened up and exposed that sucker as the painfully restrictive instrument-that-forced-a-woman’s-body-into-a-shape-deemed-ideal-by-society that it truly was. Ah-dee-fucking-os, corset! My faith now lies with the future, in the hands of people who already see our hangup on language as every bit as restrictive as that boned torture device. They’re breaking all of the boundaries of what can be done, even establishing a whole new set of whys and hows. And, of greatest value, they’re showing us that the who in the equation is based on a range of deliverables, not on some arbitrary, hierarchical profile.

Thank fucking god.


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