By Mitch Rosenzweig
I laughed out loud, although I really shouldn’t have.
She was a cute as a button. Curly blonde hair and petite—maybe three years old at the most. She had on the cutest little dress with a Christmas print, white tights, and bright, shiny Mary Jane shoes to complete the perfect picture. Her Dad, at the other end of her hand, was clearly a work-a-day type. Gnarled and whiskered, there were paint spatters flecking his plaid shirt and blue jeans.
As they walked into the black Friday store, Dad remarked, “Look at all the people!” And in a cute, tiny voice with a little-kid accent, the delicate princess exclaimed loudly, “No Shit!”
My coffee almost exploded all over me as I guffawed. Red-faced and embarrassed the Dad bent close to his daughter and gave her a loving reminder: “Now Chelsea, we don’t say those bad words in public.” I wondered if it was okay in private. With wide eyes she nodded, obviously confused and overwhelmed by the bustle of the store.
In the 70s, George Carlin made famous the seven words you can’t say on TV.
But really, if you ask anyone, there are way more than seven that we classify as expletives or bad words. When we are kids, we rejoice in their delicious sounds. From the “doo-doo head” and “poopy” of childhood, to the rude mother-degrading curses of teens, we continue to thrill at the obvious insults. It’s not just an American thing; I have seen comedic dictionaries about how to curse in every language. We classify them as “bad” words. Never to be spoken—especially not in public.
Of course no words are really “bad.” They are just sounds on our tongue or letters on a page. It is in the meaning and context that the moralistic value occurs. We can exclaim about abundant waste in a toilet but we better not tell someone they are full of it. It’s all about the context.
I have to re-train my brain after my various military stints, where bad words are sprinkled throughout casual conversations. I once heard a Platoon Sergeant use more than 14 of them in a single sentence. The worst part is that I understood and agreed with what he said—and how he said it. I shook his confused hand in congratulations.
Bad, bad, bad.
What I don’t understand is why other, non-curse words aren’t considered bad. They have negative connotations in all contexts: such as “hate,” “unemployed,” “addiction,” “kill,” and millions of others that produce a visceral response in any setting. We don’t use them in polite society either. I will avoid further examples but I am sure you can think of your own that are far worse than “doody-head.”
As parents and polite adults, we teach our children and train ourselves to avoid using bad words. Even though the best of us occasionally drop an “f-bomb,” most of us don’t cuss like drunken merchant marines. We realize that as reserved and thoughtful adults, there are better ways to express our emotions. Only the vulgar cuss—until you stub your toe in the middle of the night. And then that raw instinct forces us to damn something to the nether regions.
I’m not holier-than-thou; I am just as likely to slip one in now and then. Especially the milder ones, like sh*t, damn, and hell. Somehow, “doo-doo happens,” or “oh fudge ” just doesn’t cut it in all situations.
I have a proposal. Can we create a list of the seven words that we must say? Wouldn’t it be just as important to teach our children those words? The positive rather than negative? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a dad stooping to teach his to child to say, “Holy love!”?
My list of seven words we must say would be: love, faith, caring, peace, giving, forgiveness, and thanks. I’m willing to bet we have just as many reasons to say them in public. Maybe they are prohibited too, since I rarely hear them.
Today, I am going to offer my seven every chance I get. I will fully express myself and let people know how I truly feel.
No holds barred.
If I offend, so be it. I don’t need a filter. I will pepper my conversation with them and shock people. Even when I stub my toe, I will offer thanks for having a toe to stub. Okay, well, maybe after I cuss and fuss a bit.
Express yourself—it’s healthy. Let it out already, Dagnabit!
Mitch Rosenzweig is a veteran clinical psychologist and social worker, and in this new book Reaching for Insights: Stories of Love, Faith, and the Kitchen Sink, he attunes his therapeutic sensibilities to his daily landscape and uncovers life lessons for us all—treasures gained by observing the ordinary from an often amusing, and always positive, perspective. This rich collection of 200 brief essays penned from his personal and professional observations delights us and invites us to grow into better, more compassionate human beings. For more information, visit his site.
Editor: Dana Gornall