I was in third grade when I uttered my first curse word.
I told myself I did it by accident, but really it was in the name of love.
In third grade, I was a good girl, a really good girl. A goody-two-shoes, sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice kind of girl.
I was also the tallest kid in the class, and chubby, with a round face and dimpled arms. My size made me painfully shy. I didn’t dare do anything to call attention to my awkward, oafish self.
But there was this boy. There’s always a boy, even for a third grader.
He was the class clown and troublemaker, a head shorter than I was, and probably ten pounds thinner. He had a beautiful, full afro and a big, raucous laugh. And he was a great athlete–the fastest runner in the class, always one of the first picked for any team.
I, of course, was always one of the last.
He didn’t know I was alive, except to tease me, the girl who did all her homework plus the extra credit, who always had her hand in the air, who never said a bad word. Never. Not ever.
Then, one day during recess, we were playing dodge ball.
I finagled a spot next to him in the circle. As we watched the kids in the middle, he taunted me about the way I ran from the ball, cringed if it came my way. About my skirt, my hair, my knee socks that pooled around my ankles. Still, my heart clenched as I watched him gracefully dodge each ball that came his way, the way he aimed and hit every one of his targets. The way everyone laughed with him and not at him. If only he were mine, everybody would laugh with me too. With me, not at me.
A ball bonked me in the head.
“Sucker,” he sneered.
An embarrassed heat swept over me. Pure agony. I stepped back and started chanting quietly, “Sucker, sucker, sucker,” to keep from crying.
He rolled his eyes and kept playing.
“Sucker, tucker, rucker, mucker…” Soothing, mindless rhymes.
He ignored me.
“Crucker, bucker, stucker, fucker–”
Bam! He whirled around, his eyes huge.
“Ooh, I’m gonna tell!” he said and ran off to find the teacher.
I stood there, my cheeks hot, my hands clamped over my mouth. Even as I trembled with fear–boy, was I gonna be in trouble–I felt myself smile.
Fucker, fucker, fucker.
Cursing became a normalizing force in my life. Everyone curses in New Jersey, where I was raised, especially the girls at my all-girls Catholic high school, where we were encouraged to use our voices and speak our minds, even if we didn’t always use the most elegant language.
I didn’t have to be a dweeby goody-goody if I could curse like a longshoreman. I could be just like everybody else.
As I got older, cursing became more than a normalizer; it became a stress reliever. Whether I bumped my funny bone or lost my keys or had my heart broken by yet another completely inappropriate man (which happened a lot), I discovered I felt at least a little bit better if I let out a string of my favorite four letter words.
To this day, it feels cleansing to curse. Empowering, cathartic.
It’s not just my imagination. Science backs me up.
Research shows that cursing can help people withstand physical pain. In a 2009 study performed by Richard Stephens and his team at Keele University, researchers asked participants to stick their hands in ice water for as long as tolerable. Half of the participants were allowed to curse while their hand was immersed and half weren’t. Guess which ones were able to keep their hands in that freezing water longer?
The potty mouths.
The same Keele University team in a more recent study demonstrated that cursing can actually be emotionally empowering. Psychologist Timothy Jay, a longtime researcher of profanity usage, theorizes that cursing “allows us to vent or express anger, joy, surprise, happiness…It’s like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of things with that, it’s built into [us].”
Potty mouths, beware, however. A follow-up study to the 2009 Keele University study discovered that the ameliorative effects of swearing were less for those study participants who cursed more frequently on a daily basis.
Despite the proven positives of letting a few expletives fly, the Mike Huckabees of the world would prefer that women refrain. It’s “trashy” for women to curse, says he and his.
Cursing is not–and should not be–a gender issue. It’s an essential part of language in which everyone should be able to partake.
In certain contexts, however, cursing a blue streak is inappropriate for both men and women. I don’t care how bad the service is in a restaurant, or how disobedient your kid, or how pissed off you get at your spouse or your sibling or your parent or the person who cuts in line at Disneyland when your toddler’s about to have a meltdown, it’s unacceptable–cruel, even–to verbally ream anyone with a series of explosive expletives.
Which doesn’t mean I haven’t done it–it just means that the times I’ve lost my temper and cursed someone out, I’ve admitted my bad behavior and apologized.
There are other situations where I try not to swear: in front of my kid (though as he gets older, I get less careful); in front of other people’s kids; in places of worship since, although I’m not religious, I feel it’s important to be respectful of others’ religious beliefs.
In most other situations, I don’t censor myself. But I use my favorite expletives selectively, as punctuation, to emphasize a point, to escalate the emotion in a story I’m telling.
I love language. I respect its power. I know that if I overuse curse words, I devalue them. I work hard to use all words, four letter ones included, in a creative, elegant, provocative way.
So every sentence out of my mouth isn’t littered with “fuck.” But if you spend even a little bit of time with me, chances are you will hear that word–in all its wondrous, varied forms–more than once. Probably more than three times.
So be warned: I’ve got an NC-17 mouth, and I’m not afraid to use it.[bctt tweet=”I’ve got an NC-17 mouth, and I’m not afraid to use it.”]
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