I grew up pretty staunchy, which of course, isn't a word, and that furthermore demonstrates just how staunchy I and my contemporaries actually were when I was young. Even if it's not a word, if you know, you know. So you know what I mean. I was buttoned up from a behavior standpoint. I'm talking about being so stuck up, so pious, and well-behaved that it was a burden. I was so devout I walked down the street with cheeks clenched so tight, quarters melted, and crispy one-dollar bills had permanent creases in them.
My well-behavedness gave me a sense of pride. At about the age of 16, a friend of mine said, "Daniel, sometimes you act like an adult, and I really hate it."
I loved it.
I was proud of my tightly controlled persona and my well-manicured moral behavior. I was proud that I raised money for a homeless shelter. I bragged that I never did any illegal drugs and that I never snuck out of the house to hang out with friends without my parent's permission (unless they were close by!). I always did my school on time, did my own laundry, and was never the instigator of anything bad that I did with friends (if ever). I was a very polished and very well-behaved kid, and I knew it showed. I might as well have been a priest, and the risk of becoming one was there.
Even with all of that, every now and then, and only in a safe, quiet place... I would... maybe... eke out.
A cuss word.
The temptation to let my hair down and loosen up just a little was always appealing. It was so taboo, but it just felt so freeing to say it. I know you're thinking it right now yourself.
To me, in my non-denominational, evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal, religious upbringing, cussing was such a taboo subject. There were certain words you could not utter. It was understood that, at times, you had to talk about bodily functions, you may have a need to express your frustration about someone, and when you hit your finger with a hammer, you might need to react in some way using an alternative to an expletive. There were certain vocabulary words that just were not an acceptable form of expression.
But I admit I would let one slip every now and then. Now, for me, like everything else I did, they were very controlled. I knew the right time and place. Like when there were no parents or clergymen around and certainly no one from the Federal Communications Commission. Each word would be uttered, either under my breath or with another curse-consenting friend.
It felt really good.
Eventually, I learned to use this skill more frequently. I still felt compelled to keep my potty mouth in check among certain friends, but the frequency became more regular, the choice words became more veritable, and the comfort in mixed company became, well, more mixed. I began to process whether it was acceptable or whether I could build any argument against my use of dirty language. It's important to check and double-check your beliefs, so I did.
According to Discover Magazine, cursing can relieve stress, build camaraderie, and be a sign of a more open and honest person. Would you rather have a conversation with a liar using a made-for-TV vocabulary or honest Abe dropping an eff bomb? What's your vice of choice when stubbing your toe? –Ibuprofen or "Ay Caramba!"?
According to James V O'Connor, cursing is a sign of a limited vocabulary, based on his “poverty-of-vocabulary” hypothesis. In actuality, this is not borne out in the data. According to Scientific American, the swearing fluent are often found to be eloquent in general and often skilled with language beyond the seven dirty words you can't say on television. Furthermore, studies suggest that those who are exceptionally vulgar may even be exceptionally intelligent. Congratulations to Samuel L. Jackson, who has outshined us all while talking about burgers and putting our kids to bed.
This is an excellent finding for many of us because it has been found that the taboo on swearing has decreased since this time last century. A study published in 2006 says that 74% of us encounter swearing in public, and about 63 percent of respondents in a 2018 study cited swearing as a way to cope with pain, frustration, or stress. Swearing can help you with more than just stress. The Great Sam L. (aforementioned) claimed on the Howard Stern Show that his potty mouth methods actually helped him overcome a speech impediment. Swearing helps people to let their guard down, which in sales conversations has been found to help salespeople close more deals. What more could you ask of a bad word?
So, I think it's time we let go of the stigma ." language. I'm reminded of a time when I was young, and I sought some productive language for my own vocabulary. Under strict direction from my parents and church youth leaders, in order to avoid using the phrase "this sucks" to refer to something that was disappointing, I switched to the phrase "this blows". Well, unfortunately,... that got me in a hell of a lot more trouble.
My takeaway? They are all just words. Use them well.