Swearing is everywhere. Tiny tots, aging harridans and the FCC alike obsess over it with cheeks all aglow. Laws have been created to codify when and where cussin can't be used. Even now the battle rages on, fueled by the unparalleled accessibility of information over the internet - in head-to-head conflict with more regional concerns.
For instance: since some people in Tennessee have opposable thumbs and could theoretically stumble around the Web, should all e-swears be limited to terms commonly used in Chattanooga? Debate continues over whether "tarnation" is sufficiently intelligible in the other 49 states.
Such effort expended over a few little words! They must have some powerful mojo, right? Well, come with us as we examine the origins of cussin, where it is today, and where it's headed. Really, no bulls***.
A Brief History of Cussin
Ultimately the origin of swearing is tied to the origin of language. One currently in-vogue theory holds that language evolved as an extension of primate socializing. Given this, the first sentence was probably something like "Dude, check this heinous tick on my coccyx!" The second sentence, a reaction to the first, was probably something unprintable.
In medieval times, swears were quite different from the ones the FCC regulates today. Pillage-hardened warrior kings, faced with hordes of infidels, would occasionally be known to mutter "'Sblood!" Meaning the substance that coursed through the veins of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Or, faced with both infidels and heathen, a warrior stretched to his limit might blurt "'Swounds!" - a reference to the holes which caused 'sblood to leak out
of 'sbod. (This later evolved into the even more formidable "Zounds!")
If you think about it, these men of the Dark Ages knew their priorities. After all, what could be worse than the torments endured by Christ, and by extension any reference thereto? After centuries of pondering and a few false starts (like "H - E - Double Toothpicks"), leading-edge cussers found the answer: normal reproductive and digestive functions, and their associated body parts! So these innovators declared - and the FCC listened. So was born the modern-day taboo.
"Taboo", by the way, is a Polynesian term that means "Don't touch the king's stuff." This supports the notion that world leaders and captains of industry all swear like sailors, but want to keep their fun off-limits to the rest of us. It's no coincidence that the FCC sold our "free" airwaves to the highest bidders!
Official Cussin Anecdote
Recently I was waddling through one of a chain of pet superstores. I had come to purchase a few simple items, and was rooting through shelves of things I didn't need to see if they were hiding the ones I wanted.
Superstores work on the principle of association. That is - if you need cat food but have to trek over to it through the bedding section, your general state of need makes you more open to the idea that a down pillow or two would accentuate the cat food nicely. And if you can't locate the store's cat-food wing - great! You can use that pillow to stifle Fluffy's cries of hunger.
This could explain the success of superstore chains. That, or else people are drawn to superstores because they're large buildings which are likely to contain other people. This is the principle that raves have worked from for some time. (Me, I'm biding my time for a superstore disaster epic, where Wal-Mart capsizes on opening night and five survivors from the roof party have to crawl up to the basement).
Back to the point. I was looking for cat food. In the next aisle was a group of other customers - a woman and two men. As I left my aisle and came within earshot, one of the men said to his friends: "Let's get this s*** and get the f*** out of here."
The tone was reasonable, even pleasant in a boyishly ruffled kind of way. The speaker and his friends were about college age, and in fact probably were students. After all - people only talk that way in college, and towns with larger blue-collar factions would frown on a threesome like that being seen in public.
But this simple utterance took me a long time to process. First there was the s*** to tunnel through. Then I had to step gingerly over the f*** - careful now, don't wake it! Finally, at the end of this unusual obstacle course I found - a simple suggestion to collect the group's purchases and leave. What could be more innocent? The youth of America have not let us down!
Novel as this incursion of bar talk into an innocent megacorporate superstore was, it perhaps should not be welcomed with open arms. When people go shopping, chances are they don't want to be reminded of darts, lipsticky glasses and shots of Jagermeister.
But Wait - There's More
There's another take that can be had on this. That is - to look at swearing in terms of utility. Take a concrete example. Say you're toting the kids down I-57 in your pine-green Dodge Caravan. The kids are in the back where they belong. Suddenly one of them lets out a curse that could bend spoons.
More than one thing could be occurring. For instance, a runaway semi could be about to sideswipe your minivan, and the kid could just be trying to point this out.
Unfortunately, the granularity of data in your child's statement isn't sufficiently fine to make a useful deduction. Chances are you'll reach the other possible conclusion - that somebody pinched somebody else, and they'd better play nice if they don't want to walk home. And so precious suburban lives are lost that might have been saved.
This example points out the limited utility of swearing. Some may point out that swearing helps to relieve tension, but even this justification founders amongst mixed company. Swearing might relieve your tension, but it will make everyone else in the room jumpy as kitties in heat. In other words - don't use gasoline to put out the fire. If you must swear to relax, do so in the comfort of your own home, in front of a wall mirror, stripped to the waist with a .44 Magnum.
However, the situation alters when swearing for entertainment purposes. Movies need at least one ripe cuss to leaven their cookie-cutter plots with a little verisimilitude. For instance, Matty Rich's Straight Out of Brooklyn suffered when its squeamish whitebread producers forced the filmmaker to cut the word "doody" and substitute a T.S.-Eliot-style six-way pun. With footnote. Frustrated fans were forced to wait for the director's cut to be released on video.
Uh - I've Run Out of Note Cards
So what can be concluded from this thorough investigation? Only one conclusion is possible: swearing has its place. But not out in the world. Swearing belongs at home, within the innocent domestic universe of wife and child - not in the brutal competitive world of dog-eat-dog. If swearing needs to break into any new markets, might I suggest Tennessee - where current regulations forbid articulation of consonants, and the inhabitants communicate by grunting vowel sounds. These people desperately need the challenges that swearing could bring into their lives.
Thank you, and good night.