This morning, I was emailing a woman with whom I’m working on a project, and remarked that I was so “effing excited” about our venture.
After I hit send, I could almost hear that deflated-sounding sitcom music (“Wah wah waaaaaah!”) indicating disappointment or something falling pathetically flat. “Effing excited” struck me as utterly and completely Formerly.
I didn’t even have the passion to type the actual curse word, or even the comic book version with all the symbols and then correct myself like I used to, working hard to restrain the expression of my irrepressible emotions to within the bounds of appropriateness.
No, I unthinkingly censored myself down to “effing excited,” because the instinct to spew true obscenities has been socialized–quietly and metaphorically bled–right out of me by time, children and just general Formerlydom. And while not cursing may be more polite (I have also recently said “SUGAR!” instead of the other word, even when there were only adults present) it makes me feel a little ancient. I don’t think I like the way this is trending.
Here’s why: Once you lose the instinct to curse, I think, something in you gets dampened or extinguished altogether, and you start not minding that the wine sucks or that someone cut you in line or that the world is owned by a handful of banks and that people are hungry and jobless and that the only thing that is marketed to a woman your age is artificial sweetener, antidepressants and discounted trips to theme parks. We should mind all those things, not just accept them as mildly un-good.
My fear is that when the instinct to curse goes, it means that you no longer even have the intensity of emotion that curse words used to express…I’m not ready for that! Because on the flip side of strong negative emotions, there are strong positive ones. I will be really sad when things are no longer fucking awesome, but merely “nice,” or even worse, “pleasant.”
Not that I was ever one of those women who thought it was sexy to curse like a sailor, but when I was in my 20s, I reveled in the freedom to use the vocabulary I thought best expressed my emotional state, even if they were not SAT words. If my language shocked the listener into paying attention, then it had the intended effect, was my attitude. Labeling words “good” or “bad” seemed to me beside the point. Did they say what you meant to say? Yes? Then they’re not “bad” words. Rude, vulgar, sure. But “bad?” No such thing.
As I got older, I was happier and and so had less need for profanity. With the exception of a wine-fueled vent session with friends about the asinine behavior of someone’s boss, ex or in-law over the years, my cursing is mostly involuntary, limited to when I gash myself mowing through the meadow of leg hair that months of neglect has yielded and drip blood all over my white IKEA towels.
And then along came my daughters. How ironic that just when you most need to curse–among the many joys of motherhood are a million indescribable frustrations involving unflushed toilets–you can’t, because you don’t want your kids exposed to that kind of language. Like sex and tequila, I don’t believe cursing is appropriate for kids, who are learning judgment and limits and nuance. In due time my girls will discover the up- and downsides of sex, tequila and calling someone a f&^kwad, but for now it’s origami fortune tellers, skateboarding and Brownie troops.
So the other day, my daughter was doing her homework and erased a gash into her math handout, tearing the paper through to the table. “Dang it!” she muttered, then looked at me for my reaction.
I didn’t know quite what to do, actually. She hadn’t cursed, technically. She had pseudo-cursed, said the equivalent of “effed up.” Her emotions were the same as if she had cursed: She was understandably frustrated. Empathizing with what she was feeling seemed more important at that moment than correcting her down to “darn it.” So I got her some tape. I knew, though, that if she said “dang it” in school, it would not go over well.
I’m at a bit of a loss here. Is any attempt to control the language in a kid or an adult, for that matter, an attempt to squelch the passion that to me is a sign of life, youth and vitality, no matter how old you are? And what about pseudo-cursing? I’d rather my kids scream “phooey” than the other word, but isn’t it essentially the same emotional expression, and if so, what’s the difference how they say it? One women wrote to me to say she loved my book but was offended that I used the word “fuck” in the chapter about health called The Big Metabolic Fuck You. But what my body did post 40 felt to me like it was waving it’s middle finger at me and screaming those words, and so it seemed a propos to express it that way. Is it like, love the sinner, hate the sin (love the emotion, hate if it comes out all covered in venom?)
And most to the point, is not cursing a sign that you are flat-lining emotionally with age or oversocialization, have simply gotten more polite and respectful, which is good, neither or both?
Your thoughts would be so welcome, especially since it’s been so long since I’ve posted. I’ve missed you guys, so please, weigh in!