Profanity

I consider myself very well spoken.  I take a pride in my vocabulary, but at the same time I rarely use words that are above my audiences comfort zone.  My speech patterns are influenced a lot by whatever group I’m submerged in, but I think this is mostly an advantage as it lets me pick up on colloquialisms and jargon that can get my point across more clearly.  It makes me more comfortable to listen to and mitigates my odd habit of using polysyllabic words among Arkansans.  On the other hand when I change milieu the change in speech patterns doesn’t happen instantly, which can get me some odd looks.

Growing up I was taught that cursing is wrong.  That it makes you look stupid.  But my uncles would curse, and I didn’t think they looked stupid, so eventually the power of that early programming eroded and was overcome by the desire to fit in.  At first there was a feeling of rebellion to it, but gradually it more or less became the way I talked.  Then when I was 15 after soccer practice I was unchaining my bicycle from the fence by the playground and messed up the combination and said to myself “stupid motherfucker.”  Then some adult came up and gave me a very mild-mannered lecture about respecting my right to free expression, but not wanting his kids exposed to that language.  I tried to get defensive and mad, but he just sounded so reasonable that I couldn’t build up any steam.  I just felt like a jerk.  I made a conscious decision to clean-up my language.

After all, the whole point of profanity is to have certain words that have more power than others, if you over use them you weaken that power.

As a high-schooler who had sworn off swearing, I was forced to get more creative in my argumentative retorts.  What’s a good comeback for “retarded little shit” that doesn’t use profanity?  I found “syphilitic come-bubble” and “vaginal secretion” to be more than adequate.  Though honestly “jerk-face” had enough humorous contrast to serve a purpose as well.

This cycle repeated itself in my mid twenties when I was working with a road crew laying foundations for overpasses.  I was at the grocery store with my lovely girlfriend (who has since been promoted to lovely wife) and yelled down the aisle “HEY! Are we out of fucking frosted flakes?!”  No lecture this time, just some woman who moved her young son to the other side of herself to shield him from the bad man.  Same effect on me though.

And again when I joined the navy.  It took years this time, and even when I was getting out I wasn’t as bad as my peers, but no doubt had I began to cuss somewhat causally.  From there I moved to a steel mill and then this power plant and have not yet straightened out.  I don’t know, maybe I won’t get another epiphany moment.  It didn’t hit me the same way when my boy (6 years old with a speech delay) said “Goddammit” over a stuck drawer.  Just a mild embarrassment.  Similarly when I said “Fuck” at the dinner table when telling an anecdote from work and he said “why you say that?”  and I said “because I’m talking about work.”  I felt a little chagrin, but not the kind of shame that represents hitting bottom and life change.

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