The Art of Swearing

I know I promised this blog would be rated G, safe for work, but Noah Brand’s article (warning: R-rated language) in The Good Men Project was just too good to ignore. Profanity, vulgarity, obscenity, “cuss words”: they’re banned from proper English syntax, but, like the bastard cousin at the family reunion, we can’t deny their existence (or their usefulness: one study showed people who cursed were able to withstand pain longer than those who didn’t). According to Brand, “To embrace profanity is to embrace the stuff of everyday life, and be far more able to discuss it realistically.”

Brand’s piece, despite its topic, shows his impressive command of the English language, including the private parts (pardon the pun). Swearing properly is, indeed, an art. If you’re going to curse, Brand asserts, at least do it right. He says swearing is like poetry: it requires rhythm, alliteration, and assonance; you have to be creative and avoid unnecessary repetition.

I couldn’t agree more; my grandmother and her sisters were from Scots-Irish stock, and theirs were some of the most colorful, evocative curses I’ve heard; a few choice examples will remain lodged in my mind until death or Alzheimer’s obliterates them. Here in the South, also home to a sizable Scots-Irish-descended population, being able to “cuss” creatively, with liberal use of metaphor and simile, is practically a prerequisite for adulthood.

I’d love to open this topic up for discussion – how do you curse? What are your favorite curses? – but we have to keep the discussion board G-rated (some of my students read this blog!). Feel free to reply, but please “bleep” out any actual curse words, e.g., b—- , f—.


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