profane language from a pristine lady

Anyone who knows me for more than about ten minutes knows that I have a tendency to curse like a sailor. Seriously. I probably curse more than many sailors, in fact.

I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I remember when it all started, and when it really started to go downhill.

As a child I never cursed. We’d occasionally get reprimanded for saying “shut up.” But my parents cursed, and I saw it on TV, and I decided to try it out in person to see how it sounded. (See this entry for another time when I decided to try a new word out in person.)

This time the word was “shithead,” and it’s what I called my then-“boyfriend” on the playground for no apparent reason. Or at least no reason that I can remember now. This was 3rd grade or so, by the way.

Well. Mr. Shithead punched me right in the face. And, all thoughts about 3rd grade girlfriend-abusers aside, I walked away trying not to cry and thought that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to call people “shitheads” after all.

As the years went by I started cursing a little more, but only in select places, like with my friends at school. Never in class, never at home. And then I got the job at Burger King.

BK was my first real job, and I worked there with a bunch of dropouts and potheads and criminals. Really. I worked at the BK right down the street from the juvenile detention center and often would be working with detainees who were getting outside work programs as a reward for good behavior. So these people made fun of me all the time at first. I was the teacher’s pet, the manager’s favorite, I was smart, I played sports, I was in band, I was good, I didn’t smoke or do drugs, I didn’t go out drinking after work, and I never cursed at work. Until one day.

I still don’t remember what happened, but I remember that I was closing, cleaning the burger boards, and something happened that pissed me off so much that before I could stop myself, I was cursing a blue streak.

I actually heard dishes clatter to the floor in the back as everyone stopped in shock. People commented, laughed – they didn’t know I had it in me. But oh, did I ever.

The funny thing was that cursing at work somehow gained me a sort of status with those people, and working with them was a lot more fun after that. They really weren’t all bad, by the way, despite how my description of them above looks. And it wasn’t that I was suddenly cool because I cursed, but more like the cursing let them know that there was a little more to me than the sweetness and light they thought they were seeing. So then, me and the bad kids, we had something in common. And life was good.

By the time I got to college I was cursing freely, and that continues to this day. I even do it at work, although I do tone it down a bit depending on my audience. Examples: I curse less and use different words around my parents than I do around my friends. I curse pretty freely around my students, who don’t care, and around my boss and certain co-workers, but I don’t generally do it in meetings with “important people.” I do realize that there is value in professionalism, believe it or not.

But last week I cursed in front of someone new – an older co-worker who happened to come along to one of our weekly bitchfest Mexican lunches. I was really mad, and when the word “fucking” came flying out of my mouth, the poor guy was appalled. And, in that typical generation-gap sort of way, he commented, “Such language out of such a lovely, intelligent young woman! Where did you learn to speak like that?”

Our other lunch companions were like, “um, she’s like this all the time. You’ve just never seen it.”

He tried to do that thing where you appeal to someone’s sense of pride by complimenting them in one area to make them tone it back in another. He made the argument to me that with my intelligence, education, and extensive vocabulary, I should surely be able to think of better words to express myself. Unfortunately, he picked the worst day possible to appeal to my (at that time nonexistent) sensibilities.

So I looked him dead in the eye and said, “You know, sometimes nothing works quite as well as motherfucker.”

I didn’t realize at the time that this would become a phrase that would be repeated to me over and over again by my other co-workers, but apparently it’s now a catchphrase for us.

Truly, though, I don’t buy into the argument that profanity is a vice for the uneducated. They’re just words, like anything else, and I say them because when I’m irritated, they sound satisfying as they roll off the tongue. Who’s to say that an adjective deemed “clean” has more value than one we’ve decided is “dirty?” Yes, I do admit that I fall back on cursing more than I should, and I know that this language offends some people. I try to tone it down when I’m around people who allow mere words to offend them, but in general? It’s true.

Sometimes nothing works quite as well as motherfucker.

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