I didn’t grow up hearing a lot of swear words.
The strongest expletives in our house were bloody, darn, and crap.
These were discouraged and only used in dire circumstances.
The preferred expletives were jeepers creepers, cheez whiz, gosh golly gee, heck, and any vegetable (Brussels sprouts and green beans for example)
I am realizing that my relationship to swear words might be unusual.
Shit. If crap was bad, this was worse. Except that we were in a Mennonite-rich rural area. The ‘clean’ word for poop in low German sounded exactly like shit. When you hear your friends’ devoutly religious grandmothers using this word while talking about the chicken coop, it loses some of its edge.
Oh my god! Obviously we were never never to say this – the 10 Commandments don’t mention child abuse, but they do mention ‘taking the lord’s name in vain’. ‘Oh my gosh’ was pushing it. Of course, the extremely faithful Christian woman who ran the orphanage said “oh my god” all the time. All the time. She liked to keep up her English by watching English TV and movies and I assume she learned it from them.
Fuck. Didn’t know this was a verb. It was so taboo I actually don’t remember much about it until I read a writer friend’s erotic story where it was used in a very pleasure-positive affirming way.
Cunt. Didn’t hear this one at all. I first came across a book at the University library called “Cunt, A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio. I like the word. It sounds strong, guttural and powerful.
The first time I used a swear word was in Mexico.* I was 16 and taking part in our highschool’s Model United Nations Conference. I was Israel, back in the time of the Balfour Declaration pleading to the Arab nations not to attack me.** During a discussion, I felt one of the members was getting too many ad hominum attacks and politely asked if the others would stop pestering him and show a little more respect.
There was a shocked silence. Then someone asked me to say it again in English.
Everyone started laughing, apparently what I thought was ‘pester’ was really the Spanish equivalent of ‘fuck’.
Then I realized that my new friends used swear words casually in every day conversation. I had made my point, and the sky didn’t fall.
** Later, I ended up dating the guy who was representing Palestine or maybe Syria, so I think we won in some way.
* The second time was also in Mexico. I asked Palestine (or Syria) for a bite of his icecream. I conjugated ‘morder’ very badly.