Disclaimer: If you don’t care for cuss words, STOP! This is not the post for you. I promise I will not be offended if you politely pass on this one. (Mom, I’m talking to you.)
My brother and I were raised by the same sweet, perfectly imperfect people. We grew up under the same roof. We have just 6 years difference between us. We fished from the same pond of traits in the same country field. And while there are similarities reflected in our demeanor, one rises above the rest. I would say if heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger, the powder in our gene pool was definitely packed with profanity, because my brother and I both have a hardy fervor for four-letter words.
In a recent Time article, featuring research by Melissa Mohr, she estimated that approximately 0.7% of the words a person uses in the course of a day are swear words. Compare that with the use of first-person plural pronouns — we, our and ourselves — which we use at about the same rate. The typical range of cursing goes from zero to about 3%, with your three-percenters being the guys in Wolf of Wall Street and zero being … well, nobody I know. Or at least spend a substantial amount of time with.
What does one say, for instance, when they step on a Lego on a 1 a.m. trip to the bathroom, if they don’t cuss? If you’ve ever done that, you know, like I know, that “Oh, phooey and fiddle sticks!” ain’t gonna cut the mustard. And it shouldn’t. One study, Mohr notes, found that swearing helps alleviate pain. If you put your hand in a bucket of cold water, you can keep it in there longer if you say shit rather than shoot.
That sounds like rock solid evidence in support of cussing to me.
My brother worships at the pulpit of profanity just as often, if not more, than I do. I’d say it’s a direct reflection of how we were raised, but the argument doesn’t necessarily hold water since my mom and sister are actually pretty innocent. My mother seriously refers to the F-word as “the purple word.” Dad on the other hand … Oh, Big Rog. As kids, and still today, no exasperating task or exchange went unpunctuated by a JC-bomb from the patriarch of our household.
“Dad, sorry to wake you. Can you come pick me up? I shouldn’t drive.”
“What? Who is this? Jeeezuz Christ. Yes.”
[Dad, lifting a couch]
“Jesus Christ, that’s heavy.”
“Dad, I got another speeding ticket.”
“I mean, Jesus Christ Courtney.”
[Dad, sliding on ice and falling to the ground]
“Uh! Oh! Jesus Christ!”
Our dad is kind of like Ted. You know, from the movie Ted. He’s cuddly and awesome and hilarious but filthy things fly out of his mouth, sometimes predictably and sometimes with very little warning. I adore the guy. I’d also say he offered Matt and I an introductory course in how one curses effectively. We might have missed the day he covered frequency though. We’re definitely overachieving there.
What, you’re asking yourself, does any of this have to do with our monthly challenges used to better ourselves? Well, recognizing our weakness for dirty words and tendency to speak louder in an attempt to get the response we want, we wanted to see what would happen if we tried:
No cussing or yelling for 10 days.
Imperfect as we are, we built in room for error. We kept tallies of every time we accidentally let something fly and the person with the fewest hash marks at the end of the challenge would get a case of beer, loser’s treat.
I grew up with a father that could let it fly. God love him, great dad, but this was before Prozac or Zoloft so every now and again you had to let it be known how you felt. Especially if some asshole stole his parking spot. Or the time I was helping him paint but fucking up his boards, so I got my walking papers. And if you are working on something with him, that son of a bitch isn’t getting put together or fixed without some damn dirty expletives flying.
Fast forward to adulthood. I’m a grownup. I’m Just Matt and I just like to let my filthy mouth fucking go. When DSS told me the challenge for this month – 10 days without cussing, loser buys beer – I thought, man this won’t be that bad. I mean, yeah I cuss quite a bit, but I can shut it down for 10 days. Free case of beer, sign me up!
I laugh as I write this because it prompts me to look back on, not just the last 10 days (which I’ll get to in a second), but my entire life. The first bomb I dropped was on my Grandpa, God rest his soul, when I was just 6. He was waiting to speak with me on the phone and my older cousin thought it would be a great idea if I picked up the line and said, “Hey mother fucker!” Not only was that my first bomb, but it was also the first time I got my mouth washed out with soap.
When I was in fourth grade, I had a birthday party at my house. Me and my buddies called a couple of girls from school. Of course we were on multiple phones and had no idea my mom was also on the phone. I dropped an F-bomb. Mom came storming upstairs, sat us all down and asked who said the “purple word”. (Sidebar: You’re probably wondering why she called it the “purple word”. I know, me too. She’s always called fuck the “purple word” and none of us have ever known why and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know why either. This from a woman who also used to flip people off on a regular because she innocently thought it meant, “up yours”.) Being that we were all just a bunch of little girls when confronted by parental muscle, we blamed it on one of the sweet honeys we were awkwardly talking to, watched Revenge of the Nerds and called it a night.
Back to the challenge and day one. No sweat, right? It took one hour maybe before I spewed my first couple of profanities, which tend to come from my mouth in nice little bundled packages. That way the recipient can unwrap them all at once, or one at a time if they choose. I found myself starting to say something, then stopping mid-statement because I didn’t know how to express what I wanted to say without cussing. It was so sad! I sat in silence quite a bit. A friend of mine at work, even said, “This sucks, I can’t wait for you to cuss again.”
On the second day, I felt a bit more stressed than usual and didn’t quite understand why. I mean work was busy, yeah, and I’d only slipped up a couple of times throughout the day. I was realizing what a release cussing is for me and I was feeling a little lost without it.
Days 3-5 definitely got easier and I called DSS at the end of one of these days to give her an update. I was looking forward to the end of this challenge like it was an all-inclusive trip to the Bahamas in January. These few short days had taught me that I didn’t need to clean up my mouth. No … fuck that. In its absence I had come to realize and accept my unwavering and undeniable love for cussing. You guys, I fucking love it. It made me happy and got me through the challenge just to sit and think about cursing again. It was like my girlfriend was coming back from summer camp.
At the end of the first week, the competition was close. I want to say it was maybe 11-7. DSS was winning, but I felt dialed in. Until I realized I was heading to Chicago Saturday evening for a buddy’s birthday, I know what you are thinking and you would be right. Yes, I, Just Matt, was completely fucked. I held strong for the first couple of hours, but you can‘t drink for 9 hours, go to a Hawks game, watch the Cubs win the NLCS and secure a spot in the World Series and not throw around some high fives and “fuck yeahs”.
End of the weekend: DSS 9, Just Matt 382
I was ready to throw in the towel and go back to my profanity laden ways, but I went the full pull and kept it as clean as I could for those couple additional days.
There’s a lesson in everything and, in this case, it was that you never know how much love something until it’s gone. I think everyone should try and give up something they cherish deeply for 10 days. Whether it’s food, cocktails, sex, gambling, smoking … I’m not saying that you should necessarily return to these things after the trial separation, I mean, I did, but it could show you you’re strong enough to go without. Of course in my case it illustrated that 1) I cuss a lot, and 2) it’s a huge fucking release for me. I don’t need to yell, beat my dog or push tiny people down. No, just let me say what I’m feeling and I am good to go.
I know now, much more than I did before, that l genuinely love to cuss. I celebrate each and every letter in my entire vulgar vocabulary and it will never be sidelined again. Hopefully you get a laugh out of this. Hopefully it helps you realize that it’s OK to be yourself. We’re human. So just say “fuck it” every now and again and quit taking life so damn seriously.
I once had a sweet coworker tell me that she loved the way I used bad words because it seemed so natural. We all have talents, people. Maybe you can tie a cherry stem with your tongue or do big multiplication problems without writing them down. I can effortlessly swear in a way that would make the sailors on Queen Anne’s Revenge blush.
Cussing for me is not an intentional choice. I’m not making a stand or trying to be shocking or rebellious. It is entirely organic. Whatever that process looks like – from initial stimulus being received to thought processing to sentence forming – my brain has a tendency to pick profane over plain. It’s a force greater than me. My mind surveys the 30,000 words sitting on the shelves up there, filters out all the fluffy crap, and instinctively chooses the ones filed under “censored”.
Picking a favorite is like sorting through the pros and cons of my own children, but it’s a safe bet to double down on fuck. It’s everything; a noun, an adjective and a verb. It’s always close by to lend the umph that I need. It never lets me down. Yes, when it comes to my potty mouth, it is very likely my favorite turd.
There are those who might argue that a woman of a certain age should avoid glamorizing this crude vocabulary. Know what I say to those people? I say, they’re entitled to their opinion. (See, now wouldn’t that have been better if I’d said, “I don’t give a flying fuck”?) I used to worry about being perceived as vulgar or offensive or immature. But I don’t anymore. I’ve learned that a filthy mouth is just part of me, like lip picking and unexplainable baby hairs at the front of my hairline.
A piece featured in Forbes read, “Contrary to the common wisdom, research has shown that obscenity has no effect on speaker credibility but does significantly increase both the persuasiveness of the speech and the perceived intensity of the speaker. It demonstrates passion and passion moves people to action.” So put that in your pipe and puff it. I think it’s all about timing and knowing your audience.
I drew nine tallies over the ten days. It got sticky once I made the initial offense, because my instinct was to follow up the error with an expletive. I had to literally speak at a third of my usual pace, constantly pausing to take inventory of the assortment of words I was about to send hurling past my lips. Do you know how exhausting that is?
But, surprisingly, it wasn’t the obscenities that got me most. It was the yelling. Let me tell you something about herding 3 children, 7 and younger, through the morning routine and out the door by 7:15am. (If you do it too, I don’t have to tell you anything.) It requires yelling. Lord knows I tried. The first couple of days I was so calm you’d have thought someone shot me in the ass with a tranquilizer dart. I cooly and collectedly coached the children to get dressed; to get dressed; to get dressed; to brush their teeth; to get their shoes; to get their shoes; to tie their shoes; to eat their breakfast; to get their coats on. Even if I had to ask 10 times. I did it at a reasonable volume with an encouraging undertone.
But I’m sorry, that shit is not sustainable. By day three I was back to my ole handy escalating request cadence, which kicks off at your basic, “Will you please?” and gradually rises to a DEFCON 5 “Put your shoes on, get in the car and stop whining or I will leave you!” based on the number of times the request is made and the meltdown fired back in retaliation. I just couldn’t put this weapon aside, no matter how many times I reached for the mantra, “Peace begins with me.” (Guru Gabrielle Bernstein clearly doesn’t have any kids.)
At one point in the challenge, Matt called and basically told me he didn’t know how to talk anymore. I felt bad for him. It was like he was lost and robbed of all joy. He was a little boy who just wanted his puppy back, and that puppy’s name was Fuck. While I missed my favorite four-letter friends like Reese’s eggs in August, my longing could never compare to my sibling’s.
I think it’s safe to say my sailor mouth is here to stay. And I’m cool with that (it’s my hidden talent, after all), but the challenge wasn’t for nothing. On those days where I was able to control how I communicated with my chicks, I did notice their response was calmer. Did it take a little longer to get out the door? Um … yes. But is it worth it? Probably. I mean, as long as I don’t miss the bus again because that driver is not going to let me chase her down anymore. It was a good exercise anyway.
I guess if I had to offer anything to summarize our October experiment, it would be think before you speak. Then either choose to calm yourself or throw that filter out the fucking window and paint the world with the punch of the purple word. We could all use a little more color.