This week at the magazine, Keith Ackers muses on the merits of cursing in his essay, “Requiem for an F-Bomb.” He traces his use of profanity from his college years, through his time as a television producer, to the present, where he’s now a father.
Ackers was a consistent curser, but now that he has kids, he says that he’s given it up. The urge to swear still comes, but he pushes it to the side. The first curse from a child, he says, leads to a slippery slope:
I believe profanity is a gateway vice. Drop a few fucks here and there, and the filter is on the ropes. Next thing you know, you’re convincing yourself that some totally offensive joke probably won’t bother anyone. They didn’t seem to mind when you called that scandalous politician a big douchebag, right? I mean, no one said anything. Suddenly, you may realize that the filter is out cold on the floor, but not before you’ve said something you really wish you hadn’t.”
I’ll have to disagree here. It might be important to avoid it until a certain age, but the first curse between a father and son is a special, necessary moment.
Remember that first time you swore and didn’t have to eat a bar of Irish Spring?
You’re in the car, you’re 15 or 16, and you’re on the way home from a game—just you and the old man. You lost and the ref sucked. You know dad’s pissed, too. “That ref was a fucking asshole,” you say. Oh no, did I go too far, you wonder? Two curses in one sentence! You turn toward him sheepishly. Only he smiles and says, “Jesus Christ, he fucking sucked, huh?” That first curse is a gamble, and you just took it.
Every curse is like that first one. It’s another chance to fuck up or break new ground.
Ackers talks of times when his filter disappeared and every other word was “bullshit.” That’s easy—lazy even. You sound like an asshole—and you probably are (no, not you Keith).
You have to be pretty damn graceful to say “motherfucker” and not come off like one. Cursing appropriately and powerfully is an important skill, and, I will argue here at the risk of rocking the Good Man boat, a sign of a good man. You know your limits, but you’re not afraid to cross them. You own those words, and only you give them their meaning. Cursing gives you authority, but, at the same time, relates you to the people you’re swearing with.
If you ask me, it’s easier not to curse. You can say things like “gosh dangit” and “fiddlesticks.” Look at Nicholas Sparks. “I do not use profanity in my novels,” Sparks says. “My characters all go to church.” He made tons of money writing shit.
Ernest Hemingway had a decidedly different take. “I’ve tried to reduce profanity,” he said, “but I reduced so much profanity when writing the book that I’m afraid not much could come out.”
Now that’s not a hard decision, is it?
What do you think about swearing? Disagree with me? Well then, go fu*k yourselves. Just kidding. Feel free to sound off in the comments area. (Today’s best reader comment gets a free Good Men Project T-shirt!)