June 2009

The *#@$%! You Say

To Curse or Not to Curse, That Is the Effing Question

Michele
Wojcie-
chowski

The_you_say Photo by Nola Lopez

All right, I’ll admit it. I’m a Goody Two-shoes. I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs...you get the idea. But I do have one skele­ton in my closet, something only my closest friends and people who drive way too close to me know. I curse—like a drunken sailor whose lady done him wrong.

In college, I fit right in. It was prime cursing time. We talked about how this project was bulls--t, that lecture was bulls--t and, at times, even our entire lives were bulls--t. And we hadn’t even encountered all the bulls--t of the real world yet. Then I grew up. My family and friends began having kids, and it was as if the second these babies were born, my freedom of speech died. An exaggeration? Not if you’re a “drunken sailor” like me.

I had to learn quite quickly there are manners involved in cursing, and my First Amendment rights would not survive a jury of my former bulls--t-bashing peers. Can you believe this s--t? Oh, sorry.

I’ve learned there are times you may curse and times you may not. If you’re around kids, you simply can’t. Doing so will immediately ostracize you from your inner circle. You have to learn to use words like rats and dang and such phrases as Oh my goodness.

In essence, you sound like an ass.

You can, though, let fly in front of your own kids. But let me give you fair warning—the first day your preschooler tells the teacher that mommy called daddy a s--thead, you’ll be getting a call from school.

Not cursing in front of kids isn’t as easy as it sounds. I consider myself pretty savvy, so I know you can’t say s--t, bitch, bastard and f--k. But some parents are sneaky, and they make other words curse words in their homes. Of course, I don’t know what those words are—until I say them.

Usually it goes something like this: I say, “Mary, your mom told you to pick up your crap.”

“Awwwww...Mom, Miss Michele said a bad word. She said ‘crap.’ ”

Crap? Crap is now a bad word? What the fu—oops, I mean, oh my goodness!

I knew someone who wouldn’t let her kids say “poop.” Again, I s--t you not. This completely befuddled me, because exactly what word is a small child supposed to use? Should he say, “Mother, I have defecated in my pants and need changing”? Or, “Mother, the dog left excrement on the living room floor, and Johnny is playing in it”?

Parents should give me a list of words I can’t use when I visit. It would make life so much easier. Because other “bad words” I’ve discovered are goofball, shut up and asshole. Wait, I knew that last one was wrong. Really.

So you can’t curse in front of kids, but who else is verboten? The elderly? Business associates? Nuns and priests?

Here’s a rule of thumb: If the other person curses, you are free to curse. So if cranky Aunt Alma talks about how pissed she is, you can then say how pissed you are. If a client laments how he can’t get his s--t together, you are allowed to commiserate and say it, too.

One caveat: You can only use a curse word on the same level as the other person’s. So if that same client says s--t, you can’t spew, “You know, Steve, I can’t get my motherf--king s--t together either.” This would be the kind of f--kup that can take you from a bonding moment to an email saying you’ve been fired for “creative differences.” The lesson here is that when it comes to venting, there’s a thin line between going for broke and going broke.

Now, if that client happens to drop an F-bomb, well, honey, you’re home free. And if he (or she) drops two or three F-bombs in one conversation, you have hit the motherload.

As for nuns and priests—well, if they curse, you’re good to go. Of course, if they say goddammit a lot, you may rightly question their choice of career.

When I was a kid, my mom and her friends volunteered at the church carnival. On the last night, they invited, uh, let’s call her Sister Christian (on the off chance she’s still alive and could damn me to hell) to go to the beer garden with them. Seems Sister C had a little too many libations, then got herself locked out of the convent and proceeded to alternately mutter expletives and giggle hysterically as the others beat on the doors and windows to wake up the rest of the nuns so she could get back in.

The rest of the nuns were not happy. Sister C, on the other hand, was really, really happy. She’s the type of nun I think you could curse in front of.

What about those times when, uh, you’re just writing about cursing? Well, it’s safest to let the reader fill in the blanks. That said, there are times you can curse freely: If you hit your hand with a hammer (“F--K!”), if someone drops something heavy—like a bowling ball—on your foot (“S--T!”) or if your lottery numbers finally hit...but you forgot to play them (“*#@$%!!!!”).

Because that last one, my friends, would just be a dang shame.

MICHELE WOJCIECHOWKI is a writer and humorist. To receive her weekly column, “Wojo’s World,” email her at MWojoWriter@aol.com.