Why can't I swear?
F?.?.?. Fu?.?.?. Fu?.?.?. c?.?.?.
Nope. Not gonna happen. Likewise, I've never made use of the S-word (though I may have typed it once, uncomfortably, in transcribing someone else's speech). Lots of people seem to find the S-word handier than duct tape, but it doesn't tempt me in the least.
There are certain words and phrases that, for some reason, I can bring myself to type, but I have never said. Ass. Dick. Tits. Even butt. I've never pronounced the name of the Butthole Surfers or Beavis and Butt-head. I've never said 'This bites' or 'Up yours.' I've never called a guy a 'prick' even though on one or two occasions it has been screamingly obvious that that was the proper nomenclature.
In the seventh grade, I did utter the B-word. A mean bully girl in Home Ec took a serious dislike to me and challenged me to fight while we were trying to make lemon pancakes. 'You B,' she hissed, only she actually pronounced the word. I hadn't done a thing! I was so shocked that I repeated what she'd said to my friend Diane. Then I blushed for about 10 minutes.
I didn't fight the bully girl, but I resent her to this day for inadvertently tricking me into saying the B-word. If I were ever going to use the B-word again, maybe I'd use it to describe her. But I'm not going to use it. Not likely.
For the record, I'm aware that these admissions make me sound like a prissy miss sissy, wasting energy censoring myself in my sheltered little lemon-pancake fantasy world, and now boring everyone by explaining this pointless eccentricity.
Before you vomit (puke being another word I can't say, though barf, for some reason, is okay), let me add that I'd never recommend my language restrictions to anyone else.
First of all, I'd miss hearing people swear. It may not be coincidental, but over the years I've collected a good many friends who can cuss a blue streak, and I'd be lying if I claimed to be offended by their language. In fact, I love it. My friend Jeni, in college, looked like a demure creature, but she swore like Eddie Murphy. 'F you,' 'F that,' 'What the F?' and just plain 'F' were her most common refrains. It was clear to me that the F-word made her sexier, more intriguing, and hands-down funnier than I could ever be.
Once, just to see what would happen, Jeni told me to F off. I knew she was joking, but no one had ever said that to me before. I had to sit down for a minute and think about it. Talk about powerful language.
My friend Eric is can string together a whole sentence of swear words, pronouncing each with a certain elan. He cussed around me so much that it infected my brain. I'd be waiting for a bus after work, and I'd think, 'It's colder than a witch's tit! Where the F is the F-ing bus?' I knew it was Eric infection, and that would make me smile.
Another reason I'd never recommend abstinence from cussing is that my rationale for not swearing is completely faulty. I used to think that cussing set people apart, making them more noticeable. When my younger sister Lynn swore, my folks would lecture her. Any kid in school who swore would be sent to the principal's office. I was shy, and fearful of both lectures and principal's offices, so I decided not to take my chances. I wanted to fade into the crowd, and not swearing seemed to help.
That strategy worked until I became an adult. Now I realize that it's abnormal--and really noticeable--when a person doesn't swear. It's hard to believe that people notice the absence of something in a person's speech, but I can assure you, they do. Even though I don't talk prissily, or blink in an alarmed manner whenever someone says something I wouldn't say, people are always apologizing to me for their language.
Several years back I was sitting in a staff meeting listening to one of the guys complaining about something in colorful language, when he interrupted himself with a 'Sorry, Beth.'
'That's okay!' I said. But by then all of the other women at the table were demanding that he explain why he'd apologized to me alone. It was really embarrassing. I was definitely not fading into the crowd.
Another drawback is that when people notice you don't swear, they try to get you to.
'Come on,' they say. 'I won't tell anyone. Just a single `F.' You can whisper it.'
'What's the deal with you?' Eric once asked, after a failed round of trying to get me to link 'Shh!' and 'it.'
'I don't know,' I shrugged. 'It just wouldn't be?.?.?. me.'
And that's about as close as I can get to articulating my aversion. It isn't because of how I was raised, or because of religious beliefs. It isn't because I think swearing would make me sound vulgar. It's just that, after all this time, I'm convinced that swearing wouldn't suit me, just as certain garments make me look dumb. For me flaunting the F-word would be the verbal equivalent of wearing a brown terrycloth jumpsuit. I'm sure of it. If I used the S-word, it wouldn't sound tough and offhand, it would come out all cute, the way it does when my mom says it. People would laugh at me and I'd end up drawing even more attention than I do as a noncusser.
'Would you say hell?' Eric once prodded me.
'Sure. Hell. I can even say, Go to hell.'
'Then why not?.?.?'
I shrugged again. Why try to explain that a part of me recognizes I've got a personal record going here? Do I want to break my cuss-free streak of more than three decades? Do I want to deprive myself of my fantasy about getting really mad at someone who's familiar with my vocabulary and saying my first 'F you!' to tremendous effect? As Jeni and Eric would say, F no.
From the Boston Phoenix (June 7, 1996) Subscriptions: $80/yr. (52 issues) from 126 Brookline Ave., Boston, MA 02215.