Why I Quit Swearing (Again)

For whatever reason, I’ve never been particularly couth. Sometimes my language will pass muster within traditional white evangelical culture, other times it will not. For the last couple years I’ve been swearing again. I never felt to invoke the name of deity in coarseness or frustration, nor do I pronounce the most vulgar of vulgar American words, but I have found applications for the pair of monosyllables that begin with a sibilant or a fricative and explode at the end with a puff of air. It started in my interactions with frightened patients who seemed disoriented by the rush of medicalese and doctorate-wielding practitioners in white laboratory coats. Several patients were visibly relieved when I cursed to express my sympathy with their difficult plight or to ease the tension surrounding a difficult decision they had to make. I felt inspired to be a Roman to Romans and a Greek to Greeks. I still feel that I was inspired.

I discovered, though, with time, that I found my rhetorical groove again with cursing. Nothing close to the huge lexicon of Russian Mat (a cursing corpus which has generated dictionary upon thick dictionary and is a point of great pride among my Russian friends), but enough to make my language expressive and occasionally explosive. No muscled stevedore me, but someone who would not be pegged as a “goody two-shoes.”

I noticed that I was able to project a great deal about my group solidarity in this way, demonstrating that I was no neoconservative deluded into believing that acts of personal piety absolve a multitude of social sins, that I was an approachable Mormon for outsiders (in a setting where insider:outsider relations are occasionally strained). Frankly, that seemed to me another useful side effect of my cursing behavior.

Then I felt like I wanted some personal spiritual clarity as I tried to work through the meaning and logistics of fatherhood and the moral valence of my career path. And the wonderful rhetorical explosions kept disrupting my sought-after clarity. Something about those speech acts seemed to be more centered on me than on the numinous. So I (mostly) quit. My wife is delighted; she finds me coarse enough without a gutter mouth. I still spell the occasional word when it seems appropriate and will still occasionally transgress class boundaries to extend the hand of fellowship to a bewildered patient, but by and large I circumlocute my familiar expletives. I can think of a small handful of excellent reasons why I should have stopped cursing–to foil the nonconformity-radar of my neighbors, to avoid coarsening the lives of my children (I didn’t swear around them, but sometimes I imagined them present when I cursed), to avoid bothering my wife, as a minor act of self-discipline. I can also think of plenty of reasons to continue cursing, not least to protest the dominance of piety culture in our religious discourse. Mostly, though, I wanted things a bit quieter in my head when I sought out God. So far it seems to be working.


  1. I use the f-word underneath my breath. I curse the Northeast winter wind that seemingly blows against my face no matter the direction I take. North? The wind blows against me. South, magically the wind turns and blows against me. East? Suddenly, the wind turns to blow against me. Curse thee thou wicked wintery wind!

  2. I reserve my swearing for L.A. traffic and (usually) when I’m alone. Every once in a while a colorful verbal protuberance will pop out when the kid’s in the car, who then channels my wife and announces to the angels, “I heard that!”

  3. I never swore until about 10 years ago. Now I occasionally drop a bomb under my breath when things go really wrong. Ugh. I need to stop.

    BTW – the cool thing about the Russian swear word Mat is that it is basically a mispronunciation of mother. My Russian teachers used to warn us of this when teaching us pronunciation in class.

  4. I heart swearing.

    I used to do it bc I thought it was funny and/or packed the right punch. But now that mostly I talk to myself (it turns out people don’t really speak English here) I still kinda think it’s funny and/or packs the right punch.

    Spelling out swear words seems pretty funny though.

    Which is to say, I can never be sure how clearly God is speaking to me.

  5. I took a bad turn in junior high school with swearing, but had eliminated all but the S-word by high school. It stuck with me for a long time, well into married life, and the birth of my kids.

    What surprised me, and finally prompted me to quit, was realizing that I never used it a church, at church ball games, or within hearing of my kids. It remained primarily a work-related issue, used because I found it particularly descriptive of certain situations, or as a way to blow off steam. When I realized that I did have complete control of it, I just quit it, and have only stumbled once or twice in the last 6 or 8 years.

    I’ve found also that refraining from swearing has cut down on how often I hear stuff from my co-workers or basketball buddies. They recognize that I don’t do it, so they do it less, without me even having to say anything.

    BTW, direct quotations with attribution do not count.

  6. Like ALL swearing?

  7. I’m a big fan of swearing — there is a certain poetry to it when done right. It’s always grand when I get carried away in class lectures and my students try to figure out how to translate my profanity-laced analysis of literature into something useful to them on an exam.

    But Sam makes a good argument for stopping.

  8. MikeInWeHo says:

    I instinctively swear like the characters in Napoleon Dynamite, and it occasionally gets me a bemused comment here in WeHo. (“Mike, did you just say What the HECK?”)

    re: 2 I’ve noticed that people in L.A. tend to swear a lot more than people in the Midwest. It can be jarring to hear the f-word thrown around so casually, and I find it coarse and unflattering. If you watch an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO you’ll get a taste of how folks ’round these parts speak in casual conversation.

  9. What about pseudo-cusswords? My husband and I came into marriage with a completely different set of acceptable expletives. It took years of negotiation before we settled on our current list. But even then I’ve fallen off the wagon recently and have just made a commitment to clean up my mouth. So thanks, Sam. Your timing is excellent and your experience motivating.

  10. JA Benson says:

    My two words consist of damn and hell. I am tremendously fond of both. I have not felt the need to repent. My favorite word combination is “hells bells”. I think that they go well together.

  11. I love to curse, Norbert, and I don’t believe for a moment that we should endorse the neo-Victorian piety juggernaut, nor do I think it’s a sin of any significance if it is a sin at all. I mostly posted this because I discovered something interesting about my own interactions with God when I stopped cursing this time.

    Stevesie, it’s not for me a no-tolerance issue like spousal fidelity is. And I have no desire or license to judge your verbal faith walk.

    Mike, that’s a great image. I tend to spell words or circumlocute rather grandiosely. I don’t think I could pull off the ND swearing, though I love it when it comes from an unexpected source.

    Having never lived in the midwest, I can’t comment, but I would say that several other places I have lived (Montana, Utah, Massachusetts) are marked by expletive-rich discourse. I guess it depends on the circles you socialize in.

  12. Jami, those are called “taboo deformations” and are a fascinating topic in linguistics. I think people should say what strikes them as appropriate and, if they feel drawn to speak one way as part of their relationship with God, they ought to speak that way.
    JA, i don’t consider damn/hell to be swearing.

  13. On my mission Hell and Damn were not swear words. So all us Americans enjoyed peppering our language with mild swear words. Some guys liked to drop the words into Sac talks etc.

    My mom was shocked when I came home swearing all the time.

    Now I have pretty much dropped my bad mission habits. Unlike Kevinf though when I play bball and I miss a three pointer I might let loose with a Hell or Damn.

  14. Peter LLC says:

    What about pseudo-cusswords?

    You mean like, “Got down sat on a bench”? I think they’re sweet as heck!

  15. sam, not trying to judge or anything. I’m just curious as to what constitutes swearing for you. My wife for example is more conservative in her language. Now that the kids are forming memories and patterns I may have to be more couth as well.

  16. I was raised by a father who said “fiddlesticks” when he got mad.

    I strongly dislike swearing.

  17. larryco_ says:

    I have found the letter “p” very helpful. Although I do not curse often, when I do I can usually catch myself mid-curse and end up with “help” or “ship”.

  18. Sam–Thanks for the phrase.

    To alter the pronunciation or spelling of a taboo word (such as a swear word) to form a euphemism is known as taboo deformation. There are an astonishing number of taboo deformations in English, of which many refer to the infamous four-letter words.

    I don’t think the biggest of our cultural conflicts would count as ‘taboo deformation.’ I came from a family where ‘pissed’ was used regularly and guiltlessly. My husband regarded the word ‘crap’ to be benign. I can’t think what words those would replace.

    In fact, it was my sweet baby saying ‘cwap’ that inspired my newest resolution. Very motivating.

  19. Wow, I just got filtered for the very first time. Who knew that cr*p, when uttered after a blown layup, bbell, would force the admins to step in?

  20. This is another issue I have fair ambivalence about. I do think there are times when one of these words is appropriate, and I tend to be on the potty-mouthed side of the spectrum in Mormon settings. I do not consider swearing to be a moral sin — it’s a social sin. There are feelings that can be be expressed most efficiently for swearing.

    On the other hand, I do tend to find many of the uses of swearing to be be lazy and a sign of impoverished vocabulary. And there are settings where it simply isn’t appropriate — social sins can be disrespectful to innocent people, and I’m not okay with people being disrespectful to innocents.

    So I walk somewhere approximating the fine line this ambivalence describes. I’m not certain that my daughters have heard me say a word you can’t say on the radio — my son has heard one or two from me. In recovery settings, I will use more. I haven’t used anything stronger than “hell,” “damn,” or “crap” in a Church meeting (EQ), although I may have used something a little stronger in conversation with a bishop (nothing comes to mind, but it’s possible).

    I think it’s good to be in control of this, and to not get verbally lazy enough that words come out without your conscious choice, because it wouldn’t be a good idea to have one come out over the pulpit, for instance. None of us need to pretend that we’ve not heard these words — if we’ve been to public school, we’ve heard them.

  21. I have found the letter “p” very helpful. Although I do not curse often, when I do I can usually catch myself mid-curse and end up with “help” or “ship”.

    That’s a pretty fuppin good idea, larry.

  22. Wow, I just got filtered for the very first time. Who knew that cr*p, when uttered after a blown layup, bbell, would force the admins to step in?

    Kevin, you may want to try larry’s suggestion of adding a p at the end. Like this: “crapp.” That may make it better.

    (Of course, it still won’t help if the admin really wants to be an asshap about it all.)

  23. I like using the British swear words.

  24. I refrain because there is little more shocking than your two-year old coloring and saying “oh sh*t” when she breaks her crayon.

  25. Banky Edwards says:

    I might have related this story on BCC before, but I can’t remember. Anyway, I’m a non-Mormon who has *always* loved cursing. I simply delight in retaining a large vocabulary of curse words, both modern and vintage, common and esoteric. When I started driving a cab, my language became so foul that even other cabbies occasionally mentioned it. And watching “Deadwood” on a regular basis more or less turned me into the Mozart of swearing. So, when I was scheduled to meet my Mormon in-laws for the first time (before my marriage), I prepared to make a heroic effort to sanitize my speech in their presence. Several days into their visit, I thought I was doing a bang-up job. Then I had a sudden epiphany that twisted my gut in knots – it dawned on me that while I had avoided dropping any f-bombs or similar curses, I had done so by replacing them with the much milder (in my foul worldview) Christian blasphemies. When I confessed and apologized to my father-in-law, he was amused, but he did rather sternly affirm that from his point of view, my newly chosen vocabulary was really much worse than the words I’d chosen to censor! Fortunately, they did not hold it against me, and I was welcomed into the family, blasphemies and all.

  26. I’m like #10. A few damns and hells escape my lips, but under my breath. I’m horrified when my children hear me, though.

    So, I will only say this: Good for you, Sam. Good for you!

  27. Martin Willey says:

    Like many posters, I gave up swearing when kids came along. Life is coarse enough without exposing them to s*it at home. We have developed a number or pseudo-swear terms, my current favorite being, “Son of Bishop!”

  28. My kids keep me on the straight and narrow. Like when I called somebody a stupid a**hole and my daughter chided me by saying. “Now daddy we don’t say ‘stupid’.”

    In our house we don’t say stupid, dumb, or hate. Most other words are allowed.

  29. Jennifer in GA says:

    I never felt the need or desire to cuss as a teenager or young adult. I’m now 30, and I find myself fighting back the string of profanities (mostly hell and damn) at times. And it’s not like I’m around people who sweear all the time- I’m a SAHM/part time preschool teacher. But I mean, come one! I dare you to find a substitute for the phrase ‘batsh*t crazy’ that is equally descriptive as it is dead-on-the-money accurate in desribing someone who is, in fact, batsh*t crazy. ;) And I figure if Ken Jennings can use it in his book, then I’m fine thinking it occasionally.

  30. One day one of my kids came tattling, “John said the S-word.” I was a little shocked.

    “Just what is the “s-word” I asked.
    “You know. I don’t want to say it.”
    “Just whisper it to me then.”
    “He said, (pause) ‘Shut up.'”

  31. #23. Bollox! I like to swear in German because it somehow doesn’t feel as bad but it still elicits that gratifying release…

  32. I should add that bollocks comes in handy for a variety of occasions, and most Americans aren’t offended because it sounds so British!

  33. cj douglass says:

    I’d like swearing a lot more if only a shit load of Mormons didn’t think it was so damn cool. Are we adults?

    I refrain because there is little more shocking than your two-year old coloring and saying “oh sh*t” when she breaks her crayon.

    …And nothing more adorable.

  34. My 6 y.o. son says “Barnacles!” or “Barnacle heads!” or “What the barnacle eggs?!” all the time. It’s cute.

    I cuss a lot, but I know that I am fully capable of controlling it because I never cuss in public and only rarely do around the kids. I guess I see cussing as a sin only inasmuch as it affects others. I think cussing to myself or in select company is probably not good, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. I could probably do with a little more mental serenity, though, and I think cussing does interfere with that a little.

    People I work and go to school with think that I’m sensitive to curse words so when they let things slip they immediately apologize. It’s funny, because it doesn’t bother me at all.

  35. Before I joined the church, I cussed a blue streak. After I joined, I dramatically curtailed it. My now ex-husband didn’t, until one day our sweet little 18 month old started practice his new word. The f word. He stopped.

    Since my development of a non-standard faith, I started cussing again. I was much more aware of time, place and manner than I was pre-church, but it still brought back…memories. Now, I almost always only cuss in print, when really angry, and for deliberate effect.

    Part of the problem with even these limited constraints is that I feel like sometimes the words are squirting out the sides – I’m thinking them even when I’m not saying them. In that sense, I think I’d be much better off just stopping completely. I did for years; I don’t know why I couldn’t again.

  36. Does singing along to swear words in songs while alone in your car count as swearing. I often wonder that.

  37. Just the other day I was writing a comedy sketch in my mind that features a zone leader sitting around on a Sunday night as missionaries call their weekly numbers in and using “fetch” and all it’s formulations plus a few other choice heck-isms (and bossing around his greenie companion at the same time) in the manner of say, a New Jersey mobster or one of the Americans from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s sketches.

    Some Mormon management speak should probably also be involved.

  38. #36: The other day I was in the car with my son and his friend listening to Ben Folds Five “One Angry Dwarf.” I told them it was a funny song and started explaining what it was about. I quoted the line in the song, “Kiss my ass,” and my son, who knows I hate swearing, jumped all over it.

    “You just swore!”

    “Uh, it’s not really a swear word…”

    “Well then I can use it!”

    I had to backpedal fast. I told him only if he was quoting something. Now he’ll probably run around swearing by quoting the Family Guy or something all the time.

  39. JA Benson says:

    SMB #12

    Hells Bells!! Why do you always disagree with me :)

  40. At our church ball game last week, one of our players got two technicals and thrown out of the game for saying, to a teammate, “What the hell?” He was especially bewildered because he was a non-member.

  41. Two technicals and thrown out of the game for one wth? That hardly seems fair.

  42. Stephanie says:

    When I was a newlywed at BYU, I came home steaming mad at a professor one afternoon. I ranted and raved around my apartment with every bad word I could think of (probably not that many since I never really swore before). After about an hour of this, I went into my room and found my husband hiding under the covers on the bed. I was surprised he was home and asked, “What are you doing under there?” He said, “I was scared to come out”. LOL

    The only time I have ever heard him swear is when we were almost in a car accident on a freeway. After he said it, we both looked at each other in shock.

  43. I have shared this before but hear goes.

    When I was 17 I got fouled real hard in a district championship game and there was no call. My Bishop got in the refs face and dropped an F bomb. He got ejected and got a new nickname.

    We lost.

  44. Stephanie says:

    #43 – that may be the reason so many stakes have stopped playing basketball . . .

  45. I was raised in farm country. My mother celebrated when my father started calling it manure. I grew up hearing and using all kinds of words in the way the dictionary defined them that others consider offensive. I stopped as a teenager when I realized that I didn’t want to cause unnecessary offense – even when I thought taking offense was stupid. (which is why I am not providing a list of words that can be used properly that would offend many)

    I’ll just say that our society’s interpretation of “cursing” and “swearing” is radically different than the Biblical injunctions Christians used to invent and enforce our current restrictions. I don’t use them unless it’s intentional and in context, but I have no problem with any of them when used in proper context. Expletives used simply as expletives bother me, usually for the same reason that most uses of the Lord’s name do – that they are used so often as to constitute mindless, vain repetitions. There is something wrong with the Lord’s name being so commonly used as an expletive that “Christians” don’t realize they are doing so; there is something similarly wrong when the same thing happens with other expletives.

  46. Before I joined the church, I was well known for my crude language. I try not to swear now because Iknow that to some it is offensive. Also, mu Father used to say it is the sign of a weak mind that is not smart enough to intellectually express it’s feelings. I think he was pretty wise.

  47. My grandparents were born, raised, and lived until their death in their 90’s in the farming country of southern Idaho (Raft River Valley). There was always a damn, hell, or sh*t coming from one of their mouths, usually my grandfather’s. I remember that every time we would visit we would get the lecture from my mother (both coming and going), “Now remember kids, we don’t talk like we hear grandma and grandpa.”

    I have never heard my mother or father swear. And, luckily, they’ve never heard me. Although recently my mother did a double take and gave me the evil eye when my 14 year-old daughter used the phrase “Good Lord!” at my parents house.

    Having served my mission in England, I am partial to “Bloody Hell!” And they’re the only words I can say with a reasonably decent British accent.

  48. Also, my Father used to say it is the sign of a weak mind that is not smart enough to intellectually express it’s feelings. I think he was pretty wise.

    In Hocus Pocus, the only Vonnegut book without any cursing, the protagonist says that his father taught him not to swear because it just gave people an excuse not to listen to what he had to say. I frequently find that I am quick to dismiss/ignore what people say if they lace their speech with profanity.

  49. I can’t recall audibly cursing, at least not that anyone else could hear. But I have to admit that some words do come to mind at times. Now I wonder, is there much difference between thinking the words and saying them?

  50. I never swore until I got home off my misson. I got home in the spring and got a job at the airport loading and unloading airplanes. The crew I worked with were like a bunch of long shoremen. Unfortunately it rubbed off on me. Later that fall when I went to Rick’s I was sharing an apartment with five other RM’s. One evening in the kitchen I burned myself and dropped a few choice words. The shocked look on their faces was priceless. One of my roomates asked me if I had served my mission on a navy ship to learn how to cuss like that.

  51. I’m interested in knowing if anyone else has discovered that casual swearing inhibits spiritual clarity. I don’t often swear, because I didn’t grow up with it. But I can’t say a word or two have not come out when I was reallllly angry. I surely did not feel anywhere close to Deity at the time, but was it a function of my anger, or my cuss word?

  52. I liked this post smb. Thanks for sharing your insights this topic.

    Something about those speech acts seemed to be more centered on me than on the numinous. . . . Mostly, though, I wanted things a bit quieter in my head when I sought out God. So far it seems to be working.

    That’s a great reason to stop using profanity. Another is to cultivate a general sense of reverence around your life. I know this could be interpreted as “endors[ing] the neo-Victorian piety juggernaut”, as you put it in your comment # 11, but there is a distinction, I believe. The “neo-Victorian piety juggernaut” is focused on keeping up the appearances. You don’t swear because you don’t want your fellow ward members to think that you aren’t as religious as them. I agree that this would be the wrong reason to stop using profanity. We need to be more authentic and to do things out of internal conviction rather than for purposes of appearances.

    But avoiding profanity can contribute to a more general sense of reverence in life, and it has a natural expression in the form of respect for other people. Even though virtually all other people heavily use profanity in contemporary America, choosing not to use profanity in their presence shows respect for them through the decision not to use words whose referents are either sexually explicit and misogynistic or otherwise relate to bodily functions that play no real role in most discussions.

    Reverence is, indeed, a forgotten virtue and one that has no connection with or necessary implication of the “neo-Victorian piety juggernaut”.

    You will no doubt have observed, however, that you make yourself the odd man out in workplace discussions if your language is not laced with vulgarities and your topics of conversation not dominated by profane gossip, backbiting, and sexually explicit anecdotes of recent weekends and adventures.

  53. BiV, I don’t/didn’t swear much in anger.
    Jim, I think when we say them aloud, we strengthen a persona, a projection of our personality. we all can decide how to modify our personae and whether to worry much about that projection, but that is a difference between them.

  54. I’m of two minds with regards to this topic.

    On one mind, I’ve done some writing and I’m aware of the power of words. Anyone who writes should be aware both that words are just words, and any meaning that they have is purely cultural, and that there are no bad words, just people that take offense at the cultural connotation ascribed to certain usages of certain letter combinations. At the same time anyone who writes should also be aware that the usage of a particular word can greatly influence how a piece of literature is perceived, and therefore influence its success. Thus the usage of certain letter combinations becomes a delicate matter not to be trifled with carelessly.

    On the other mind, I have in the past used various strengths of swearing. I currently take the position that unless it is highly warranted by context or quote, I refrain from the usage of words whose cultural significance has relegated them to largely nothing but empty vulgarities. In some ways, then, the usage of ‘heck’, then, becomes worse than ‘hell’, as ‘heck’ has never had any meaning that I am aware of other than as a substitute for a perfectly serviceable and meaningful word.

    Thus when discussing scatalogical issues it might become appropriate to say ‘shit’, but why? (Oh, and it’s a bit immature to use an asterisk when discussing this–we all know what the word is!) The word conveys a lot of negative meaning along with any positive, along with the potential for offense. At this point there is very little use for it other than to express frustration, which is typically a sign that the person is not in full control of their emotions. I have more respect for people who use it casually with no emotional attachment than those who use it as an emotional outburst, to be honest.

    When I am writing, mostly in the realm of fantasy, I avoid English language vulgarities for the reason that I may want to sell the books to a younger audience and I know that eventually my kids will read them. If I include profanity, then I have justify why I can use that language in my writing when they cannot use it in their speaking.

    Of course, nobody’s perfect. My worst use of profanity was when I worked at a long-term treatment facility for schizophrenics. Those bastards can outswear anyone on the planet!

  55. I love that your decision to quit swearing was an extension of a different spiritual goal. I used to swear, and never understood why it was a big deal, until I decided that I wanted to be less critical of others/gossipy/etc. Let me tell you, dropping the phrases “what a _____” and “well, that was _____” cut the amount of profanity I used dramatically. I know that isn’t universal, but for me, stopping swearing really helped me be more Christ-like in the way I thought about and talked about people. I agree that swearing in itself is more of a piety culture issue, and it doesn’t bother me when people use it, but I think that it can help other spiritual goals be more reachable.

  56. Where the Snugli is the Baby Bjorn-ing Zeitcast?

  57. Katie P. says:

    I started swearing a few years during a particularly hellish time with my family. I don’t like it and don’t do it normally, but mild swearing is not the taboo for me it once was (still no taking Lord’s name in vain or the worst of American swear words, though).

    It’s occasionally crept into others areas, though, so I’m trying to stop completely. I am not cut out to be a moderate swearer, I guess, so back to temperance for me.

  58. Steve Evans says:

    Wm, the Zeitcast is now in the hands of the British.

  59. Ah, yes the Boppy-loving hands of the OshKoshing British.

  60. The British? Bl**dy ‘ell!

  61. Rechabite says:

    I’m interested in knowing if anyone else has discovered that casual swearing inhibits spiritual clarity.

    Here’s my own anecdotal experiment:

    I was sitting peacefully in a temple sealing room, waiting for a ceremony to start. Enjoying the godly spirit of the place and thinking random thoughts. One of which caused me to comment casually, but silently to myself, “Well I sure as hell wouldn’t…”

    Then I caught myself. Whoops. I just cussed in the temple. Hmmmm. Did that just separate me from the spirit?

    [Quick internal scan.]

    Hmmm, nope? Not really. Still feeling good. I wonder. So I tried it again. Ran a short list of expletives through my head. (Mild ones, though.) Nope! Still feeling good! I can get away with saying “hell”–in the temple–and still feel the spirit!

    I didn’t carry the experiment any further than that, though.

  62. My wife and I had a good chuckle reading Sam’s little essay.

    I must confess that I was well-trained in my youth in the fine art of cussing. Strangely enough, despite the largely “inactive state” of my family, and my step-father’s profusive employment of select epithets, there is one phrase that I then (and now) found too objectionable to pass my own lips — that is the practice of using the name Jesus Christ as an expletive. Frankly, I never understood that one, as common as it may be. The famous “F” word I could understand — it has a certain innate force that lends itself to multiple applications, spanning the gamut from bludgeoning to the stiletto pierce.

    My step-father always avoided the “mother of all English swear words.” I never heard him utter it once in my presence, although his brother and other extended family members were not so circumspect. Indeed, I am quite confident that one particular uncle achieved the dubious distinction of having cuss words form the majority of his articulated vocabulary. To this day I remain impressed by the chain of adjectives he could assemble without even seeming to give it any prior contemplation whatsoever. (Oddly enough, he has now — having given up his penchant for whiskey — become quite the righteous older man, with a temple sealing and an active posterity surrounding him; I haven’t heard a cuss word from his mouth in many, many years.)

    At any rate, I can certainly empathize with many of Sam’s eloquent justifications for keeping the quiver of coarse words ever at the ready. I mean, what are you going to say at that moment when the top of the large jar of Costco marinated artichoke hearts mightily resists your attempts at opening it, only to suddenly give way — resulting in the jar crashing to the floor and artichoke and olive oil exploding to a height of eight feet on the kitchen walls and cabinets? I’m sorry, but the English language, absent these very important linguistic outliers, would prove woefully deficient to express one’s inmost feelings at such a moment.

    Similarly, my wife has found that, when confronted with a husband in his late forties who still insists on acting (quite often, it would seem) like a 12-year-old, she must — on the order of approximately once a year — uncork her annual “F-Bomb” in order to shut me up and forcefully place me “back on track.” Indeed, were I able to achieve her sense of economy in cussing, I would feel no need for self-condemnation in this regard. Alas, such is not the case. The “damns, hells, and shits” seem to glide effortlessly off my tongue. The “goddamits” and the “F-bombs” are (thankfully) quite rare — but hardly non-existent. I am, in fact, quite ashamed that I have mastered (and have taught to my children) the quintessential Mormon fashion of crafting “replacement” words for what would otherwise be a proclivity to “F-bombs” that would rival the most gutter-mouthed trailer-trash scum on the west side of Utah county. Yes, I’m speaking of the ubiquitous “freaking”, “fetchin'”, “friggin'” or “frickin”, etc. I am partial myself to “freaking” and look down with a judgmental eye on anyone who uses “friggin” or “frickin” instead. I consider the latter two far too vulgar for my refined tastes. There is something about properly pronouncing the terminating “ing” that makes it better — don’t you agree?

    And so, while I am certain that my pile of “every idle word” is being heaped higher with each passing day, I nevertheless congratulate myself that I am not like my lesser brethren who shame themselves with insipid outbursts like “What the heck”, “Oh my gosh”, and other despicable perversions of the mother tongue.

  63. So, the other night I was out with some ladies from my ward and one of them was discussing her dogs and said she couldn’t be exactly sure what mix of breeds her newest dog was. Another woman asked why she couldn’t be sure. Without a pause I proclaimed, “Because the bitch was a whore.” Oh my. That weeds out a group pretty quickly.

  64. I recently saw a company named “Bollock”–isn’t that a (mild) British swear word?

  65. Adam Greenwood says:

    So most people who don’t swear are participating in some pharisiacal display of righteousness, but you’re above that sort of thing.

    Captain, the irony meter can’t take much more of this!

  66. I’ve always wondered – anyone know how “Oh my heck!” originated? I mean, I’ve never heard anyone say “oh my hell” except to mock.

  67. kristine,

    It is, though I’ll have to defer to Ronan and the other Brits to define how “mild” it is. It comes in very handy as an even milder American expletive though.

  68. This was originally a petty response to AG’s. I apologize for the pettiness.
    My hope was that my admission that I had embraced not swearing would not turn into a defamation of those who swear, which is the reason for my attempting to disentangle myself from piety culture (Phariseeism, so-called, is a rather extreme version of this and does not characterize the majority of those who don’t swear as a result of piety culture).

  69. I happened to notice on a national news outlet that last week was officially “no cussing” week in South Pasadena, CA. Apparently, the city council designated this week in support of the local high school’s “no cussing club”, founded by none other than sweet-as-apple-pie high school student McKay Hatch (yes, he is LDS, and yes, he is closely related to the senator).

    Y’all can join the club online if you like. According the web page there are over 10,000 members


    For the most part, I stopped being personally bothered by cussing some time ago (I agree, it can be expressive and useful…), but when I read about good old McKay Hatch, it makes me genuinely proud of our the whole Mormon wholesomeness, and a bit nostalgic for my youth in Utah Valley. Keep it up McKay!!!

  70. Most of the time, I don’t cuss. Really. Honest, no, really, I don’t. But when I get mad, I get Tourette’s (like a friend of mine who I stole the phrase from) and boy, what comes out of my mouth.

    I have Eric Eliason’s book about J. Golden and he says that the way he cussed then paled in comparison to his youthful glory days. That’s my stand.

    I can see I need to read this post in its entirety. Bbell, shake your (former?)bishops hand for me.

  71. Sol’s response about the dog in #63 was priceless.

    Taking the Lord’s name in vain is one thing, but I wish the current loathing of “cursing” and “swearing” wasn’t built on such a foundation of doctrinal sand – taken so completely out of Biblical context and bastardized into what we have now. I would feel like an ass if I had to defend the modern justification, since that reasoning damns all other, legitimate perspectives and practices as indicative of hellish blasphemy. A societal standard it is; a Biblical injunction it is not – at least not as constructed and taught in this day and age.

    Having said that, I almost never use “swear words and curse words”, and I never curse in the original sense – simply to avoid causing offense.

  72. and because the latter is a commandment

  73. Adam Greenwood says:

    It sounds more like defensiveness and apology to me, but if avoiding defamation is what you think you’re about, carry on.

  74. Great post, definitely insightful.

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