Fair warning: This post strays from PG-13 due to the subject matter. If you are at work or squeamish about foul language, you may want to skip this one. Or you can read on and experience the thrill of your lifetime.
Knowing how to curse is like knowing how to apply perfume. If you use it sparingly and in the right spaces, it can leave people refreshed by your aura of mystery and coquettishness. People near you think, Ah, she really knows how to cuss right.
If you saturate yourself with bad words, spray them all over the place like the house is on fire, then people will cough and avoid you. You reek like just any foul-mouthed bitch.
And yet almost everybody does it. Probably every culture since the beginning of time has created a set of words that everybody agrees are foul, then goes on to banish those words to a separate room where they stay in darkness. When it’s time, in proper circumstances and company, they’re let out and they do their dirty business for everyone to enjoy. Then they’re sent back to their room in disgrace.
But what would we do without them?
When you kick over a full can of yellow paint on your living room floor, are you going to say “shoot”? No, you’re going to say “Fuck. Dammit. Fuck this shit.” Something like that. There’s a calming effect those words bring like no others can.
We aren’t born knowing those words. For most of us, they are quarantined in the early years, when you play peekaboo and sing along to “Old MacDonald.” At some point, the child goes out into the world. They come home and ask, “Daddy, what’s fucker mean?”
Who knows where they come from? But one by one, they introduce themselves. Bitch. Shit. Crock of shit. Tits. You don’t get a book. You learn them at the school of hard knocks.
Some people learn to use them well. There are a few comedians who can curse with every other word and get away with it. A few movies. For the rest, too many bad words are just a poor substitute for being funny. It’s desperate.
But when used well and in the right place, dirty words can be a thing of beauty.
When he was coaching high school football, my brother became frustrated with one of his players who wasn’t having a good night. It was time to get into his face. As the player came off the field, my brother hollered, “Jawoski, what the hell are you doing out there?”
Jaworski said, “I’m getting my fucking ass kicked.”
It was the dropping of an atomic bomb that ended the war. A perfect application.
During the Korean War, President Harry Truman appointed General Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations forces. In the beginning, MacArthur performed brilliantly, especially the legendary landing at Inchon, a gambit that rescued the entire U.N. effort. But MacArthur was also a legendary gasbag who thought Truman was beneath him. He publicly criticized Truman’s strategy of limiting the war and refusing his requests to conduct air raids in China. When MacArthur, over Truman’s orders, issued an ultimatum to the Chinese, Truman removed him from command.
MacArthur returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States. He received stacks of mail, an enormous ticker tape parade in New York. Truman, by contrast, was on his way to a 22 percent approval rating, the worst of any president since Gallup began polling.
MacArthur piled on. He addressed a joint session of Congress, which interrupted him 50 times with ovations. At the end of his speech, he bid a pompous farewell: “I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good bye.”
Later, when asked about MacArthur’s address, Truman responded: “It was nothing but a bunch of damn bullshit.”
Truman, who had seen his share of dead soldiers as an officer in World War I, wasn’t using “bullshit” idly. It was a succinct reinforcement of civilian control over the military.
Cussing doesn’t have to have a grand purpose like that. Sometimes a curse word is just the perfect word. Sometimes there is no other way to describe Chad in the mailroom as anything but a royal dickhead.
Sometimes you knock yourself out to meet somebody on time, and then they’re 45 minutes late, forcing you to leave a message on their cell phone that “It’s 8 o’clock and you are no fucking where to be found.”
Sometimes something is just built like a brick shithouse, because what’s more solid than a brick shithouse? Nothing.
Sometimes you ignore the One Way sign and turn the corner into four lanes of oncoming traffic blaring their horns at you. What will you do? Well, you’re going to say “What the fuck?”
Sometimes somebody really doesn’t know shit from Shinola, which really gets to the heart of it because everyone knows Shinola is very different.
I haven’t confirmed if this story is true, but one of the most effective uses of cussing I’ve ever heard was performed by a relative, who is not the kind of person to throw dirty words around carelessly. She was arguing with her mom about something. They were going on and on. Her husband stepped in and said, “Well, I think that …”
She interrupted him: “Nobody gives a fuck what you think.” The situation was resolved with one blow. If you are going to use a dirty word, be sophisticated and do it right, just like that.