Recently I was attracted to a blog post that was Freshly Pressed titled, “The Complete Guide To Swearing At Work”, written by Roya Wolverson. Give it a read. In doing so myself it made me think of my own evolution into using cursory vulgarity and how using such terms has evolved over my own lifetime as I passed through a changing society.
I was not raised in a household where my Depression Era parents used any sort of contemporary profanity, and of course, my immediate relatives never uttered a discouraging word in my presence either. Although, when my folks hosted the occasional party of their social friends over at our house, and my sis and I were hustled off to bed, I recall straining my ears to try and listen to the adult chatter. If one listened intently enough you could hear the more frequently uttered “son-of-a-bitch”, “hell” and “damn”.. the later sometimes being associated with “damn Japs” or “damn Krauts” (remember, these were the Greatest Generation veteran members just 15-20 years past WW2). I did manage to pull out the occasional “shit”, which was considered by my age group as being one of the very few “sacred swear words”; the words that got your mouth washed out with soap, the words that made old ladies gasp and parents shudder and grab for their black coffees and a cigarette. The “F” word was considered the crown jewel of swear words. Anyone heard uttering that word was destined for a life of being a social outcast, homelessness, poverty, and condemned to the dark pits of hell for eternity (mentioning the word “hell” in that context was acceptable… only if you were an adult). I really didn’t know what the “F” word meant, although some unconfirmed rumors were overheard on the school playground that sounded pretty strange to us 7 and 8 year olds (“Huh? You stick what, where? Why??”).
I learned from my mother that sometimes it’s HOW you use the word that determines if it is a swear word or not. For example, some words do not fall into the true definition of swearing but if you use them with certain emphasis, there could be an overlap. I recall one such incident with my mother. Most of us kids simply used the word “darn” as the family approved curse word. “Mom, I can’t get my darn shoes tied right.” Or, “Oh darn.. I got a paper cut.” Well, in one instance I was sincerely angry about something. At the time I had outgrown the cute-little-boy stage . With a heavy emphasis I told my mother upon returning home from school, “I don’t know why the darn teacher gave us homework on a darn holiday!” Whoa. That was a double-darn that obviously meant “damn”! “Don’t use that tone of voice in this house, young man!” Ooops. Lesson learned.
As I got older I began to hear the words all uttered a bit more frequently by certain fellow students; these were more or less the “tough” guys of the school; the future “greasers” that would participate in our high school social strata. By time we reached high school all the words were commonly used, not by everyone but by mostly guys in the middle to lower rungs of scholastic achievement. I had two close friends that swore more commonly in general conversation and a couple others who barely uttered the words. Myself? Honestly, I never took to conversational swearing. Here’s the amazing part… I held out until I was about one year into the military. Prior to that, in the high school years, my buddies would kid me about not swearing occasionally. In fact, for some reason the word “sucking” I substituted for “fucking”. “This darn sucking homework is too complicated.” Um… ok. But it worked for me for a while. Oddly I recall my transition into conversational swearing. I simply got tired of trying to avoid it one day. I gave up. If for nothing else than to be able to sleep nights after uttering “Fuck you.” to someone who deserved it (or not).
Now, it’s not like I use the colorful words often, but I use them with discretion and strategic placement for emphasis; mostly with friends or trusted colleagues, not like a union Teamster. I’ve evolved to this day and age in being more swearingly verbose when something doesn’t work right. Like a stubborn bolt holding a bad muffler to the car. Somehow mumbling, “Oh, shucks!” doesn’t fit the situation, and it certainly doesn’t help loosen a stubborn bolt. If you don’t have a can of WD40 laying around I usually use some verbal lubrication, “You goddamned, mother fucking, cocksucking, son-of-a-bitch!” and many times that will loosen it right up. Strange how that works. Of course, you have to follow that up by looking around the neighborhood to see who was listening to your tirade.
When bringing up our own three kids my ex-wife and I were nothing like our parents in keeping the swearing from the kids. I tried very hard not to drop the “F” bomb, as did my wife, but we did use the other words. Our teaching the children included concepts of understanding that there were indeed things that adults could do that children should not do. We intentionally did not lead by example in some cases. Adults (generally) have a stronger understanding of how and when to utter profanity in order to stay socially acceptable. Allowing children to use certain swear words meant that likely children would use these words more prolifically in context of their own lives and social environment which would not be appropriate for other adults to overhear. Many words have a sexual connotation many times not fully understood by children and requires discretion in their usage. So if I were working under a sink with a stubborn pipe fitting I’d clean up my verbal lubrication a bit to something like, “You goddamned son-of-a-bitch piece of shit!” Although the only thing that did was fill the house with echoes of laughter.
One of the signs of being accepted into a new job, for me anyway, was when colleagues would swear in front of me, like at lunch time, lesser meetings, certain workplace social gatherings. Since my jobs were usually office environments with mixed genders it sometime took a while before I was accepted enough for the occasional sexist dirty joke whispered in a corner or in the cafeteria. When I had joined Quill Corporation as a supervisor it almost took two months before I heard any sort of curse word beyond “hell” and “damn” from my associates. At first I thought that I had stumbled into one of those family businesses with close ties to the Almighty.
Nowadays young people use profanity much more than we did, and I hear it a lot with young women as well… even in the workplace. When I was growing up swearing was more a part of expressing some frustration. Today it’s more conversational. I’m not sure any of this has anything to do with some decline of humanity or breakdown of social order in Western society. I suppose one could argue that more frequent use/acceptance of the use of swear words in conversation is in fact progress; that we are becoming less hindered in our own morality.
Nah. We are way too politically correct. Swearing allows us to rebel.
Oh well, WTF, time marches on.