I Swear

If you're like me, you take pleasure in uttering the occasional bad word. If you're not like me, turn the *!@#% page.
It's A Curse: I find that a well-placed cussword is therapeutic.
Illustration by Regan Dunnick

It’s good to have a potty mouth for president. When George W. Bush uttered a certain seven-letter word over an open mike last year, only the media seemed to care. Certain religious groups overlooked their candidate’s casual profanity, and Bush himself didn’t seem a bit red-faithed. As a fellow swearer, I welcome this linguistic loosening, and I say it’s about damn time. Folks today can’t seem to swear off swearing. Yes, it can be offensive, but so are many other aspects of modern life. I’d rather my neighbors’ dogs not leave me yard fritters, but they do. Why do I swear? Let me count the effing ways. For one, it’s therapeutic: When a driver cuts me off in traffic, or when I spill coffee all over my niece’s crayon masterpiece, a “Mercy me” or “Gee whillikers” just won’t do. As Mark Twain said, “In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.”

Also, swearing is funny; it’s the residual third grader in me. Certain vulgarities just sound perversely Seussian (“Would you do it with a duck?”). Of course, deliberate cursing isn’t nearly as funny as the accidental kind. Once, my sister-in-law Mary Anne, a confirmed nonswearer, tried to say two things at once—”the whole shebang” and “the whole kit and caboodle”—only to come out with “the whole shit, kit, and caboodle.”

Finally, profanity is an old Texas tradition; past masters include a couple of Johnsons, President Lyndon Baines and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy. But cussing isn’t a male-only activity. Even Helen Corbitt, the Neiman Marcus chef and tastemaker, noted, “I learned to swear in Texas.”

I didn’t realize how foulmouthed I’d become until I had kids. (Placatory parental note: My own folks never swear, except Mother did say “Hell’s bells!” once when she inadvertently shut the cat in the dryer.) When my son Parker was two, he was playing with his action figures and, in his little piping voice, had one declare to the other, “I say, ‘Good God,’ but you say, ‘Oh, dammit!’” I quickly initiated a cleanup campaign, only to overhear this exchange between Parker and his three-year-old brother:

Parker: Look, that car has damage on it.

Philip: Don’t say “damage.” It’s a bad word.

Parker: Oh, you’re right. I meant to say “poopface.”

Today, I’m happy to report that my children do not swear—nearly as much I do.

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