Musings on the lost art of cursing

  • Published
  • By Dave Gallop
  • Director of Personnel Data Systems
I attended a wedding reception recently. It was your typical formal event in a hotel ballroom with extended family and friends, sit down dinner, and head table for the wedding party. Somewhere in the course of her speech, the bridesmaid's ceremonial toast turned into a roast. What caught my attention weren't the escapades she had shared with the bride - they were in the vein of "you had to be there" - but the proliferation of four letter words throughout her speech. It definitely was not the usual platitudes associated with these types of speeches. It got me thinking about how the traditional curse words and phrases have evolved in our society and how prevalent they are in current day conversations.

It used to be that these words and phrases were reserved for special occasions, much like a special wine that you bring out to mark the importance of a date or event. Today, they are part of mainstream conversation, and you hear them everywhere and by everybody. Comedians and network TV shows contain dialog that used to cause women to faint. George Carlin's comedy career wouldn't go very far today because he would be hard pressed to come up with seven words that you can't use on radio or TV. If Gone With the Wind were released today, neither we nor Scarlett would frankly care how Clark Gable felt and a classic film line would just be filler material. The phrase "swearing like a sailor" has little relevancy these days. (I wonder, was swearing a pre-requisite to becoming a sailor and was there a test?)

I think today's situation is a bit sad. Not that I'm shocked or offended by the common use of these words, but that worthwhile language tools aren't as available or effective as they once were. I don't apply these terms very frequently, but there are times when they come in handy. I'm just not sure that they're as meaningful in today's environment. Where are the new curse terms when you need them?

I don't see many viable alternatives out there. Hand gestures may work in certain instances, but if you bang your thumb with a hammer, it isn't going to care regardless of how many digits you wave in its direction. Alternative words like "fudge" just don't have the same impact. Besides, I like fudge, so why should I give it a negative connotation? And special keyboard characters may be fine in print, but people will probably reach a different conclusion than the one you intended if you say "Asterisk, Exclamation Point, Period, Period, Asterisk" in a loud voice in public.

So for now, if I look flushed, exasperated and about to blow a gasket, I'm really OK. I'm just compensating for the lack of an effective word or phrase for the situation. Meanwhile, I await the new curse terms to work their way into the culture and restore the vocabulary tools for those extra special moments in life.