That’s My Message To Ya: Fuck You and You Can Kiss My Ass, and If You Don’t Like It, Baby, I’m Going Across the Street To Jerry Graff. Period. Fuck You.

“You know, women shouldn’t swear as much as you do.”

So said a coworker to me today as I cussed a blue streak after an incident involving a rolling cart, my nose, and Newton’s first law. And while I will happily admit that I swear more (and more colorfully) than most women… nay, most people I know, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.

Society, on the other hand, thinks I’m a right twat.

And I have a problem with that. I have a mighty problem with the taboo nature of swears.

Time for a chat, dear galleons. Pull up a chair.

***

Swearing is present in all human languages. Which you may or may not find interesting. I certainly find the notion that swearing is a shared language convention to be of moderate note. Functions similar to swearing have also been observed in chimpanzees. How far the swear share extends through the rest of the world remains unknown, but the possibility remains that animals cuss just as readily as we do.

And just how readily do we swear? Out of the average 15,000- 16,000 words we each utter in a given day, about 80- 90 of them are swears. That’s 0.5% to 0.7% of your daily verbalization.

That’s such a tiny percentage of a person’s daily word utterage that it begs the question: Why do we make such a big fucking deal over a few “dirty” words?

***

Cuss words are some of the most emotionally volatile words available to a person. These words are linked to methods of release. Whether it’s the catharsis of uttering a stream of expletives when in pain or pissed off, or the ragged screams of a few well-chosen profanities while in the throes of sexual rapture, these words are our way of letting off emotional steam.

When we look at why these words are taboo, I think this is where the answer lies- in their emotional explosivity (yeah, it’s not a word, but I like it). In  studies on the most infamous group of Tourette’s sufferers (those with coprolalia, the uncontrollable urge to cuss like a sailor), positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging were used to examine the brains of the patients. What scientists found was that, when these patients cursed, both primitive (the thalamus and basal ganglia) and advanced (the prefrontal and language cortices) sections of the brain activated at the same time.

Basically, what we have going on is a tug-of-war in the brain. We have our primitive, base side urging us on to give in to our emotions and let the swears fly, while we have our educated, civilized advanced side telling us to quell that desire. Our uptight, prudish need to be seen as classy, sophisticated, advanced individuals pushes us to view cursing (such a base desire) as wrong.

But, by doing this, our society seems to be forgetting why we curse in the first place. “People usually look at the bad uses of swear words rather than why we’ve evolved to use them,” says Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. “Cursing exists because … it’s how [we] express anger symbolically. It’s much better to swear than to physically hit someone or hurt them in any way. Those people who lost their job at GM need to go to a bar and have a drink and swear. They need to be able to vent their anger.”

***

Now, what constitutes a swear? Depending on the situation and people involved, this can vary. Something as minor as “sucks” can be considered a naughty word to some. On the whole, however, there are a handful of words that most people consider to be “dirty.”

I could rattle some off, but I think it’s time I turn the floor over to the late, great George Carlin. After all, his “seven words” bit is kind of the definitive bit on cussing (and, frankly, always hilarious):

***

Anyway, I’m done playing nice now. Time for the rant.

I loathe the hypocritical nature of the cussing taboo. People are so goddamn quick to punish/judge you for letting “fuck” or “shit” slip, but these same people are then quick to turn around and tell you to find acceptable substitutes.

Don’t say “shit,” say “shucks.” Don’t say “damn,” say “darn.” Don’t say “bitch,” say “bich” (cause “bich” is Latin for generosity).

Which may seem like a way to solve the problem, albeit a pussy way to do so. However, I’ve always thought it was stupid as hell. You’re replacing one word with another… yet the emotion is still there. The new word is now a curse. Is it one of the taboo expletives in society? Perhaps not, but the meaning is the same. If the meaning is the same, what has really changed about the utterance? If we were to honestly, completely, 100% give ourselves over to switching all of our cuss words out for different words, all we would have is a whole new set of words doing the exact same thing.

Words that are taboo simply because of tradition seems silly. Actually, more than that, I find the whole concept of locking off part of our vocabulary distasteful. Who is the one to decide which words are better than others? Who weighs our words?

“People can feel very passionate about language,” said Kate Burridge, a professor of linguistics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, “as though it were a cherished artifact that must be protected at all cost against the depravities of barbarians.”

I am a person who is passionate about language. And as such a person, I think using the argument that cuss words impoverish language to be a poor one indeed. Almost laughably absurd, when you consider it logically. How can cursing impoverish language, when what it offers is a unique lexicon for a set of strong emotions?

Though our snotty, civilized selves might rail against it, the fact remains that deep, base emotions like rage and frustration and fear aren’t going anywhere. We’re stuck with them, and to not have a way to express the feelings surrounding us when under the influence of these emotional states… now that seems like a crime against language. If we have language to tame and describe the world, how can we lop off a chunk of it just because we are ashamed of our emotions?

Society, stop acting like a bunch of East Coast WASPs and get your shit together.

I’m not advocating cussing in all aspects of life- each of us has a variety of specialized vocabularies for different situations. The words you use around your friends are different from the ones you use when with your lover, and those are different from the ones you use when speaking with your boss. The jargon of daily life changes depending on who you’re interacting with and where you are. So, while cussing might not belong in the office, it does have it’s own niche in our lives.

Fucking deal with it.

***

And to circle back to the beginning…

It’s true that, on the whole, men cuss more than women. But why should my vocabulary be pigeonholed based on my gender? I already get shafted in so many other areas… just give me this.

Or don’t. What-the-fuck-ever. I’m going to continue dropping strings of expletives like they are bowling balls, and my hands are covered in butter.

…That was a weird simile, even for me.

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