I remember my first time. I was alone in my bedroom, and I was nervous and scared. After all, it had always been made explicitly clear to me—in the vaguest of terms—that something terrible would happen to me if I ever did anything like what I was about to do. As I sat there trying to work up the courage to “do it,” I kept thinking of all the horrible things that could happen to me.
Still, I was determined to explore the unknown. My hands were sweating and my heart was pounding; I took three deep breaths to try and calm myself down. I desperately wanted to try this, even with the threat of being struck down by lightning. Actually, I think it was that fear that made it even a little bit more thrilling to me. And I reasoned that maybe the threat of going blind if you explored the “S” word wasn’t really true after all, since I had been hearing both of my parents, my older brother, and my best friend using it for years and they all seemed to be able to see just fine.
Armed with this thought, I gathered up all of my courage and softly whispered the word “sh*t.” I sat there frozen with my eyes closed, waiting on the inevitable punishment for what seemed an eternity but was probably no more than 30 seconds. I felt nothing, but I wasn’t sure if that was just because I had gone numb from a terrible pain. I slowly opened my eyes and was relieved to see that I was still in my bedroom and that it was not encircled with flames. With my confidence buoyed, I decided to test the waters even further and proceeded to say every bad word that I had ever heard, softly at first and then louder and louder. Once again, I held my breath and waited on the wrath of God, but, again, no noticeable changes. I took a deep sigh of relief. I was safe to swear.
That moment is when I really felt as though I grew up. I was now free to curse whenever I wanted to, safely out of earshot of any adults, of course. It was a defining moment for me. And, I have to say, it is still to this day one of my favorite indulgences—I enjoy cursing. I believe that a well-placed, well-timed curse word can be very liberating. It allows you to express your exact feeling at the perfect time. However, and I must emphasize this, only when used with discretion. A constant stream of curse words or dropping them into every casual conversation gives the impression that you have a very limited vocabulary and cannot adequately express yourself any other way.
I learned that it takes practice to curse with finesse. And I enjoy practicing. Cursing is one of life’s great pleasures, right up there with drinking and smoking. I wish I smoked, I really do; I think it looks extremely glamorous whenever you are dressed up like Audrey Hepburn or find yourself at a Mad Men party. But I just can’t reconcile that with the danger it places on one’s looks, as well as, of course, on one’s health. So I guess enjoying two out of three isn’t bad.
It’s most unfortunate that “bad” words have become so commonplace. It’s taking all the fun out of it. Cursing was one of the last things you could safely do that made you feel like you had a darker side to your personality. There’s just not that many vices we can turn to anymore to keep us from feeling dull. Smoking, drinking, and swearing—those were the three things that separated the grown-ups from the kids. We all decided that certain words are “bad”—and now we’ve decided to change all that and make them perfectly acceptable in the most casual conversation. It’s not fair.
I remember when I was in Japan, and one day some neighborhood kids saw me coming up the street and began shouting every “bad” word they knew in English. They probably thought I would be shocked, but I loved it. I thought it was brilliant. I decided to learn every bad word in Japanese. I was so excited! Unfortunately, it had absolutely no effect on me; they sounded like every other Japanese word I was having to learn. The danger of those words just wasn’t there, since I had no attachment to them at all. It’s the same with British swear words. They just don’t mean anything to me. The swear words I want to use are the ones that I grew up being forbidden to use. Those are the ones that elicit a thrill of being a little on the naughty side, which I admit I have always enjoyed. That’s why it is so depressing that everyone uses them so flippantly these days, with total disregard and lack of respect for their history.
It’s one of my great loves, cursing. There is an art to it, to using bad words effectively. And it’s become a dying art form. Which just really pisses me off, damn it. I think I’ll go pour myself a drink now. Hey, anybody got a light?