It happened again, the topic of kids swearing came up in conversation and someone dragged out that old, prissy, non-truism about swearing being a lazy person’s way of expressing themselves. It goes like this: There is always a more creative and descriptive way to say what you want to say. We’ve all heard it. Many of us have said it. It’s like that other non-truism, “Everything happens for a reason.” It sounds good and so it gets repeated and repeated even though it is patently not true. Everything does not happen for a reason. And there is not always a better way to say fuck.
Here’s but one example. You are rushing out the door in the morning. You have three minutes before the school bell rings. You’ve told your kids 17 times to put on their shoes, 21 times to remember their backpacks. You’ve chased them around the living room applying sunscreen. And just when it seems you might all get out the door with 20 seconds to spare, you notice that the cat has defecated (I’ll spare my delicate readers another swear word) on the sofa.
The anti fuck-ers would prefer for you to properly express yourself at this moment. It might go something like this: I am in such a hurry and I am already feeling frustrated with my children. I am surprised and displeased to discover that the cat has defecated on the sofa. I like the sofa and it is newish. Further, it makes me wonder if getting the kittens was a good idea. Now I have to stop and clean up this poop. It is not only an unpleasant job that I would prefer never to have to do, but it will also make my children late for school and me late for work. My pulse is quickening and I feel the beginning of a stress-induced headache coming on. Rats.
Or, you could just let out one, quick, fuck! and get on with the dreadful business of cleaning the sofa. Fuck is filled with meaning and emotion and true expression. And it’s nice and tidy.
Recently, a young and vivacious friend of ours was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. It was shocking beyond belief and nearly impossible to wrap our minds around. We were broken-hearted for her husband and her children and so very sorry for the treatment she would have to endure. But what I kept saying in those first weeks, when the seriousness of the situation was still sinking in, was, fuck. Fuck was all the sadness and helplessness and anger and confusion rolled into one. What else do you say to yourself when something so shitty happens?
I am not advocating for fuck in the classroom. I don’t expect weather reporters to start telling us that it’s fucking hot outside, and like any parent, I would be horrified if my kids started throwing it around. It’s not for every situation.
But, used judiciously, it is the absolutely perfect word, without substitute. It is not a lazy person’s crutch. As my Poetics professor Sandra Gilbert once said, “Fuck is a fine and respectable old Anglo-Saxon word.” Which is exactly what I’m fucking talking about.