Curses!

Heck is for people who don’t believe in Gosh.

So says a magnet on a shelf in my office at work. I use the magnet to cover the pointy tip of a screw that sticks out into the room at elbow height due to faulty installation. It has been known to snag or scratch the careless as they enter my 10′ x 10′ turf. I don’t want visitors to get “screwed” so I cover the offending tip, which also cuts down on swearing.

I was thinking about this magnet and my office scenario yesterday as I read a syndicated article about kids today replacing the heavy-duty curse words with alternate but similar-sounding versions that the article described as “Cussing Lite”. Words like “freakin'” or “friggin'” are in the lexicon, and it’s apparently – according to the article – now socially acceptable to use words like “crap” and “sucks” in church or in advertising and not just when trying to twist a rusted nut of off a bolt or when a dam breaks (snicker, snicker – I said “nut” and “dam”!)

“Cussing Lite” isn’t a new concept, of course. Heck, darn, shoot and gol’dangit have been with us for generations and, as a certain children’s book assures us, “Everyone Poops”. Back in W.C. Fields’ day he used expressions such as “Godfrey Daniels!” and “Mother of Pearl!” to get past the Hayes Commission. Go even further back and the medieval exclamation “zounds”, which sounds so quaint today, was a contraction of “God’s wounds”, which was pretty heavy duty for the time, I’m sure.

It seems we always need a group of words to express above normal dismay or frustration in order to show we truly are shocked or agitated without stepping over into the scorched earth territory of full-bodied swearing. Of course, if the phrases are all too common it’s hard to achieve the effect you might have been trying for. My own children have adopted phrases such as “barnacles!”, “tarter sauce!” and “sweet onion chutney!” to get past the home censors. When my oldest started going to beauty school she was in a group of foul-mouthed girls who’s language, sadly, wasn’t too uncommon (in fact, it was exceedingly “common” to use another quaint phrase). When my daughter would let fly with a “pickleweiner!”, however, her friends could be sure she was taking it to another level.

In a time when comedians have to work bluer than blue to achieve anything approaching shock value I suppose I should be glad there is still a sensibility that says there should be lighter weight epithets. (I remember how hard I laughed the first time Gilda Radner, as Emily Litella, first said “b***h” to Jane Curtin; now that it’s every third word out of a rapper’s mouth the effect is wearying.) Generally, however – while I have my own struggles with my tongue at times – I think we can do better.

This is especially so when we are writing and have time to think and craft our thoughts. Sometimes a bad word, judiciously placed, can be very effective for the situation; even for this to work, however, the button can only be pushed rarely. Last week my eldest wrote an emotional post for this blog which I reviewed before uploading. In one place she selected a certain word, mild by today’s standards, for a one-word sentence to emphasize her feelings. It was effective in the context, but I didn’t want to let her off easy. “Think of another word,” I said.

“But Dad, that’s the word I feel,” she said.

“Feel a little deeper,” I said. “Don’t tell me that out of all your vocabulary that is the one and only word that sums up your distress.” She pondered. She furrowed her brow. She smirked and came up with another word. I laughed and let it go in. A point I’ve tried to make with myself as I try to control my own tongue, and that I’ve tried to pass on to my kids, is that the Bible says that “out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

When it’s time to open our mouths, what do we tell the world we are full of?

One thought on “Curses!

  1. Sheol, you’re a good writer! My parents were very much like you. Curse words were out of the question and “curse lite” was frowned upon (darn, jeez). The one time I let slip a four letter dandy I got the soap treatment. Irish Spring might be good for the rest of your body, but I don’t think it was engineered for your tongue.

Leave a Reply