I cuss, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And while I have enough restraint to rein in my swearing around people I don’t know or people I know wouldn’t approve, I wish I didn’t have to.
I do curse in front of my children, however. I’ve taught them that swearing is an optional privilege of adulthood. They understand that, and they don’t mimic me. Watching my children come to a mature appreciation that there is a time and a place for swearing makes it all the more frustrating that so many adults continue to judge people who curse. I’m tired of being looked down on just for adding a little seasoning to my speech.
Why are these words so powerful? The etymology of the word “profanity” itself gives us one clue. It originates from the Latin profanus, which means before or outside the temple, and many curse words continue to offend because they are an affront to the authority of organized religion. In French-speaking Canada, where Roman Catholicism once held sway, these religious roots are still apparent: curse words like Criss, tabernacle, calice and hostie are still common, especially among older generations.
In English Canada, our swear words are more likely to refer to sex or our bodies. These words no doubt gained power — and retain power — simply by capitalizing on prudishness.
No matter an expletive’s origin, we ought to be comfortable and secure enough in our own faith, religion, bodies and sexuality to accept a little irreverence, and use these “bad” words without outrage or offence. Doing so shows we have a mature relationship to the powerful forces shaping our lives like religion and sex.
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As a cusser, I’m not campaigning for everyone else to join me. I respect others’ choice to use the vocabulary they wish, but I also deserve that same respect myself.
Of course, some words gain their power by demeaning other people. I do not defend slurs against women, LGBTQ2 people, racial groups or other minorities, except when members of those groups take back ownership of a slur — and the power behind it.
Even modern science has shown what a benefit swearing can be. Studies have reported that cursing heightens pain tolerance, indicates honesty, signals a robust vocabulary, and induces endurance and strength during physical activity. So it’s no surprise I enjoy it so much.
My sometimes-salty vocabulary isn’t a reflection of poor character. I’m a good person. Not perfect — but I try to be decent, fair and understanding. Dropping F-bombs doesn’t diminish those attributes. So while I’m worried that ending the moralizing on swearing might have the unintended consequence of watering down the efficacy of a well-placed curse, I think it’s long overdue that society let that shit — I mean stuff — go.
This column first appeared in Broadview’s May 2020 issue with the title “Cursing up a storm.”
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