Go ahead and swear—it might make you feel better…
– Jeffrey Hill, The English Blog
Words amaze me.
They always have.
Every once in a while, one of my students will ask me if I always knew I wanted to be an English teacher.
In my youngest years, I wanted to be an artist or a stand-up comedian.
In eighth grade, I picked a profession that gave me the better parts of both of those options.
I’ve been teaching for 8 years.
And, for as much as I am able to master and throw around words, one set has always given me trouble.
I can’t curse.
I blame my upbringing.
Every once in a while, my mom would let loose with a “You little shit,” but even then it was full of incredulity of me beating her at a game of Scrabble.
That’s a lie.
I never beat my mom at Scrabble.
When I got to college, I decided that part of the requisite re-inventing of myself would be taking ownership of the lexicon that had eluded me for so long.
Every once in a while, I’d throw out an f-bomb or some derivative thereof.
Usually, this was surrounding the playing of Mario Kart on the Gamecube.
After about a month, through a friendervention, I was asked to stop.
“You just can’t pull it off,” they told me.
“You’re too nice.”
It would have been the perfect moment to prove them wrong, but I couldn’t.
Just before winter break, one of my classes was studying Steven Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
I was reading it aloud.
At the top of one class, a student approached me, “Please don’t read the cuss words, Mr. Chase.”
Worried I’d offended him, I asked why not, if everything was ok.
“Oh, yeah. I love the book. I just don’t like to think of you saying those words.”
I’d been found out.
I’ve tried a few experiments in the intervening weeks.
On the phone with a friend, I’ll drop in a curse word in place of the adjective I’d actually been thinking.
The conversation has proceeded normally. Then, I collect data.
“Hey, do you remember when I cursed?”
“A few minutes ago, I cursed. Do you remember that?”
“Oh. Sure. Yeah.”
“Good. Did it sound authentic?”
“When I cursed, did it sound like someone who knows how to curse?”
“Um, I guess so.”
I’m getting better.
Still, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that, like French, this is a language I’ll likely never master.
I listen to the lady a few doors down yelling at our neighbors on the weekends and wonder at the brush with which she draws from her diverse pallet of expletives.
She is a foul-mouthed Jedi, and I envy her.
She’s Lenny Bruce, Sandra Bernhard and every episode of The Wire rolled into one.
Faced with unsatisfactory answers in conversation, she constructs linguistic cannons from her canon of vulgarity.
I’d be reduced to reason and likely get nowhere.
Still, I’m working on it – working damned hard.
…I’ve a long way to go.