Lyrical Profanity

My dad swears like a sailor. In fact, he used to be a sailor. I actually never attributed his cursing to the Navy. Angry and frustrated, my dad was a master profanitarian; thunderous, lyrical and awe-inspiring. Scared as I was of his tirades (although he was all bark and no bite, then, and is neither bark nor bite now), I was also a little proud of them. I felt sure that nobody could do what he did.


Despite being around such language as a child, I never had any doubt which words I could use and which were entirely off limits. Maybe that was my mom’s influence, or maybe it was just context. I don’t think I could have imagined feeling angry enough to attempt one of my dad’s interjections. Anyway, he doesn’t use four letter words. My dad swears in compound phrases, with a delicate balance of adverbs and adjectives, and startling combinations of the mundane and profane.

There have been moments as an adult I have needed to copy him to express my feelings, but unlike him, I always stumble or make a ridiculous combination. I often wondered if he practiced and revised his rants.

“Maybe next time I’ll say___in’ ___ hole before son of a ___in’ ___master. I think that would have a greater impact,” he might think, while chopping wood, unaware that soon, he would need to put his plan into action after smashing his thumb.

Anyway, given my upbringing, it’s not surprising that I can be a little foul mouthed, and I actually think profanity gives some statements the emotional boost they need. (But I do have the decency to understand I’m supposed to feel ashamed of that.)


Of course I try not to swear around my kid, especially now that he is repeating things. I have been mostly successful, but sometimes I slip.

Recently he was trying to do something, and it wasn’t working out so he exclaimed, “Bad Damage!!” I was startled, then pleased to have been misunderstood in such an innocent way. Until I realized that if what I said, sounded like “bad damage” then him saying “bad damage” would sound like what I said. So I had to tell him not to say it.

That was a little challenging, because neither of those words are bad. It’s hard to explain how two non-bad words can sound like bad words to someone else, so I just told him not to say them. Then I feared that I have caused some future problems when he’s say, explaining a homeowners situation to his insurance agent. (Yeah, I’m a trouble-borrower.)

There are other situations that are less questionable. Like when he walked up to me, looked me in the eye and said, “FOCK.” He said it just like that, and there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to get a reaction. Funny as I found it, I didn’t smile, and I mustered the most shocked face I could manage. We talked about why it was a bad word and made it clear that he was never to say it again.

Then Jeff and I took to playing the blame game. Must be one of the older kids at school. He didn’t hear it on TV, we don’t even have HBO.

The next night, I realized I had left something on downstairs after I was all comfy in bed. I sat up and said, “FOCK!” only I didn’t say it just like that. It seemed I owed that “older kid at school” an apology.

Cut me some slack, I told you how I was raised. And even though I wasn’t in the Navy, I was in the Army Reserves. So, now I know I have to be more vigilant with my self-censoring… bad damage.