Should I Clean Up My Potty Mouth?
Enough of your shiznit, Lofgren!
Warning: Swears ahead! If you despise imprecations or epithets, STOP READING NOW. I wrote a great ditty about bitcoins that doesn’t have any naughty words in it. Read that instead!
Unless you consider “feces” “farts” and “polyamorous” to be naughty words, in which case I might not be the writer for you.
(Yes, I’m somewhat proud of having included all those words in an article about bitcoin.)
Alright! Now that that’s out of the way and all the cussers are still here… it’s time for the post!
Swearing was a bit of a no-no when I was a small Sarah. My parents weren’t fans of curse words and my sister and I were discouraged from using anything more colorful than the occasional “rats” or “aw nuts”. Even saying the word “butt” earned us a frowny face. Like it or not, we were members of a “bum” household.
Occasionally I gave the envelope a tentative push.
For example: I got in trouble one time for trying out the word “bitch”. I was roughly 8. “Bitch” was featured in a line of dialogue from my favorite movie, The White Stallion (similar to The Black Stallion, but waaaaay worse), and I wanted to be as much like the protagonist as possible.
That meant calling my sister a “bitch” while the two of us devoured chicken nugglets at MickyD’s. Not only did this incident not turn me into a beautiful teenager with a horse, it also hurt my sister’s feelings and earned me a serious talking to. Afterwards, once I’d been properly chastised, my parents scratched the tape on my vhs copy of The White Stallion. When the movie got to the part with the word “bitch” in it, there was only static for 30 seconds.
My parents are very resourceful.
(It’s amusing that, all these years later, one of the most popular things I’ve ever written has the word “bitch” in the title. I’m still not sure if I’m reclaiming this word or being an insensitive bint.)
As I grew older, things loosened up and words like “butt” and “fart” were suddenly on the table (actual butts and farts were not allowed on the table for sanitary reasons). This opened up a world of possibilities for not only my social life, but my writing. Shouldn’t an artist have every tool at their disposal, if they’re to create great art? What kind of inferior writer would Laura Ingalls Wilder have been without use of the word “asshat”?
Growing brave, I began to test out “piss” and “shit”, occasionally mixing them up with each other, to hilarious effect. This did not make me popular, but it helped crack my good girl image. Just a smidge.
But there were a few words I was wary of using.
I suspected if I ever used the F-word (fuck) someone would immediately tell my teachers and they would decide it didn’t matter how eloquent my essay on Shakespeare’s invention of existentialism was, I was a no-good reprobate deserving of a week on Scared Straight.
As for racist, homophobic or overly sexist words… just no. I refused. A good girl can only go so far. I’m still not a fan. If a word seems cruel, well, cruelty isn’t super funny IMO. (Apologies to the “comedy is dead” crowd, but I doubt racial slurs would really improve my punchlines. If they do, I probably need better punchlines.)
Underly sexist words, however, make me giggle.
Words like “crapbimble”.
As I grew older and older and the world grew warmer and warmer, my mouth grew dirtier and dirtier (aside from the time I spent teaching teenagers, during which I was a paragon of self control and very inspirational, of course, duh).
These days I occasionally slip up and swear in front of children, which earns me disapproving looks from their parents. Probably I messed those kids up for life and they’ll end up selling empty peanut shells outside the circus by the time they’re my age.
On the other hand, no one has asked me to babysit for a while, so that’s a positive outcome.
At some point I learned that Swearing is a Sign of Intelligence.
I took this to mean every time I used the word “dickweasel” my IQ went up several points (so far that’s born out).
If I continue on this trajectory, by the time I’m ninety-two they’ll have to seal me up in a ship full of sailors, because those are the only people who will want to be around me. There are worse ways to spend one’s retirement, I suppose.
But sometimes I have imposter syndrome when it comes to using swear words. Like my brain is pretending to be one of the cool kids, wrapping a fake leather jacket around its cerebellum so everyone will be like “damn, that’s a cool brain!” Part of me still wonders if one of my grade school teachers will find my writing and be disappointed in me.
I don’t think I could handle it if Mrs. Fry considered me a let down.
I guess the Hufflepuff and the Slytherin hiding inside my psyche will always be locked in a struggle for dominance.
And I can’t help but notice, while it’s not like I’m typing out an endless stream of profanity here on Medium (aside from this post), I do seem to swear a lot more than other writers on the platform.
Other writers are being smart. They know there are bosses and clients and job recruiters who aren’t impressed by satirical posts about clown sharks or writers who use the phrase “walking bag of dicks” to try and get laughs. Writers know there can be a cost to swearing. They understand that, in a world that is gradually loosening up about curse words, some folks still keep strands of pearls around their necks for convenient clutching.
It could be amusing if I try to follow the example set by The Good Place and come up with increasingly silly swear substitutions every time I’m tempted to type “pisswizard” or “shitgibbon”.
At the same time, sometimes the right word is just the right word. It might shock someone into giggling or give a statement extra emphasis when extra emphasis is required. “Guardnabbit” doesn’t always work.
It’s a dirty world, after all. With all the insane nonsense going on all the time, are we really going to get worked up over the occasional “bloody hell” or “douche canoe”? You fuckers don’t help, with your selective highlighting habits (I don’t really think you’re fuckers). Oftentimes my most highlighted phrases are the ones with swears in them. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, PEOPLE?
My use of swearing hasn’t exactly discouraged the Medium curators from curating my posts. In my experience, they don’t give a tin tooty whether or not I use the word “tin tooty” in place of something spicier.
Sometimes non-profane words can be even more horrifying! For example, “toe cheese” or “moist” or “sputum”. You probably don’t want me to use any of those words in my writing!
What do you guys think? Do you like it when writers cuss in their posts? Or does it make you squirmy? (Oh wait, we already got rid of the people who don’t like swearing.)
And God? Does he mind? I suspect he has other, bigger concerns when it comes to me. If there’s a heaven, I’m not expecting to make the VIP section, anyhow. Which is fine, because I was mostly planning on using eternity to finish up my current novel (that’s how long I’ll need).
When I left my last job, I made a sort of gamble with myself. I started to operate on the theory that my authentic voice might be worth a damn. Not a liability, but an asset. Writing the things I wanted to write, refining my true voice, might actually get me somewhere worth going.
I don’t have any conclusive data from this experiment, but that’s because the experiment isn’t over yet. It’s why I published this article, when part of my brain wondered whether it was wise to do so. It’s why I’ve written so many ridiculous things on this platform. Because I am ridiculous. And confusing. And idealistic. And sometimes profane.
Maybe it’ll cost me.
Maybe I’ll win.
That’s the gamble.
I’m overanalyzing this the way I overanalyze everything in life. I guess the trick is to be intentional and to try and be kind. Sometimes that means swears. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll try not to be gratuitous.