Dang It…

A confession. I have never, not once, not even in situations that
made me blisteringly angry–said the F-word. I’m an F-word virgin.
I’m pretty sure I can’t even type it. Wait. I’ll try.

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

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.

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