Cussed cussedness


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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27 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    When my kids ask about swear words, I tell them the following: There is no such thing as an evil word; words are just words.

    But you need to understand that words have meaning, and they have perceived meaning by the people who hear them – both by “definition” and “judgement for having used them.”  Saying fish is not allowed in our house,* not because the word is “bad,” but because we do not want them getting in the habit of using words that can be detrimental to their friendships, ability to be welcome at other’s homes, grades, etc.


    *(which is not to say no one’s ever slipped)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      The trick used by one of my friends was that he told his boys that “these are words that we only use when we are watching hockey.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        That’s actually a really good way of going about it. Children, particularly young children, have trouble thinking abstractly, so making it concrete like that will help them to get a grip on when certain words are socially acceptable and when they aren’t. I might add, “these words are words that we only use when we are watching hockey and driving in traffic.”

        My son had trouble figuring out when cussing was appropriate, because, while I’ve been known to cuss more than your average bear, his mother cusses at least once per sentence. This led him to be rather uncomfortable with cuss words when he was young, because he just couldn’t figure out the rules. At one point, his mother was cursing up a storm in the car, and he was getting uncomfortable, so I said, “I think you’re cussing too much in front of him.” Her reply was, “Fish you, I don’t fishing cuss too much in front of him.”Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      This is how I feel about it.  Although the Mrs. disagrees with me when I go into my “words aren’t harmful, the intentions behind words can be harmful” spiel.  She retorts with, “Would you talk this way around your grandparents?”  To which I usually have to concede that no, I wouldn’t, but add that this has more to do with me deferring to their strange beliefs about words being powerful enough to hurt regardless of the intentions behind their use in utterances.

      I get a kick, and I see it quite a bit here in Utah, out of people who will go see an action movie of some kind that is full of violence but the thing that gets some of the viewers out of shape is the language.  Blows my mind.

      And finally, I’m reminded of the Carlin bit where he replaces the word “kill” with the word “fish” in all those movie cliches.  “Alright Sheriff, we’re gonna fish you now…but we’re gonna fish you slow.”

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    It’s funny how much this is a matter of convention.  Where I used to work, the fish-word was in such common parlance that you could mistake a coding session for that scene from The Wire.  Where I work now, a few miles away in a similar segment of the same industry, it is simply never used, and it’s unusual even to hear a word as strong as “crap”.Report

  3. greginak says:

    I friend of mine i used to work with would exclaim “jesus christ” every now and then. She made an effort to stop that so she substituted saying “cheese and rice.” It made her exclamation far more noticeable and attention getting, and more  focused on what she  wasn’t saying. But not having some loud exclamation clearly wasn’t an option.

    When i worked with runaway teens there was this one girl who said ” THE F WORD” roughly every third word. So i was talking to her one day and told her she needed to watch her mouth since we were in our drop in center so foul language wasn’t appropriate. She needed to learn to watch her mouth. She completely agreed then tried to start talking and did a complete Perry; she froze for like 20 seconds. Without the  F word to grease her tongue she forgot how to speak.Report

  4. Will Truman says:

    Three years in Mormonland had me actually saying “Oh my heck.”Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Will Truman says:

      Almost a tribal marker, yes?  I also hear a good bit of the word “frick”.  And this goes to my point above: When they say “frick”, as in  “Oh my God, I’ve severed my frickin’ spinal column” and I say “fish”, as in “Oh my God, I’ve severed my fishin’ spinal column”, we’re both really saying the same thing despite all the vapors and hand-wringing that accompanies my choice of words.Report

      • Good point.  The euphemisms wouldn’t really work if people didn’t know the original word in the first place.  The euphemisms actually show that the original word is in the back of everyone’s mind.



        • mark boggs in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Which is what makes it so silly to me.  They’ve made up another word that has the same implications in how it is used (and, let’s face it, it is almost the exact same word) and throw that around with impunity.  As though the arrangement of four letters F-U-C-K have some inherent power to them that necessitates the creation of a word with nearly the exact same letters and sounds and has exactly the same meaning in that context.Report

  5. b-psycho says:

    I’ve encountered 8-year-olds that swear more than I do.  And I’m not exactly a frackin saint.

    By now, I think we should be well past seeing it as some marker of ignorance.  Some of the deepest conversations I’ve been in have included foul language, while some of the dumbest sheet I’ve ever heard was delivered in the King’s English.  What matters is the whole the words form.Report

  6. One of my buddies from college uses the f word as a hesitation device. He probably averages three or four f-words per sentence. Amazingly enough, parents and professors love him.Report

  7. Jonathan says:

    My grandmother-in-law abhors swearing, whereas I (and, now, my wife, our friends and her cousins) swear quite a bit (I know, I know, I’m trying to stop). the funny thing  about it is that the gm-in-law also now likes to patrol facebook, scolding anyone who swears…including people she doesn’t know. She went off on one my friends once (who then fired right back at her), and, most recently, left a comment chastising a comment left on the page of a Portland OR radio station (we live on the other side of the continent, on the other side of the border).

    My wife and mother-in-law are rather mortified. To me, it’s good fun.Report

  8. James Hanley says:

    I swear a lot, and the words just don’t bother me much.  I try to constrain the habit here at the League both because it’s not quite the appropriate custom here and because I’ve found that using the words comes across differently “in print” on the net than it does verbally, frequently reading like passionate anger when it’s really only mild exasperation. I’m such a habitual swearer that I can accomplish this only by rewriting most of my posts three times before hitting the submit button.

    Several of the colleagues I work with most closely are also like me, and our conversations are filled with vulgarities, some quite colorful.  So it was a shock to me when I got reprimanded for calling a co-worker an asshole.  He was being an asshole, and so it seemed appropriate to say so.  But apparently it’s more offensive to call someone an asshole than for them to actually act like an asshole.  What an odd concept.Report

    • Plinko in reply to James Hanley says:

      In my free time I officiate at a popular multi-player gaming community. Our first rule is to respect other players. We are relatively intolerant of swearing (as servers running violent first-person shooters go) and will start flashing warnings to people if they do it a few times, then moving on to more aggressive discipline if the behavior continues.

      But, if they direct things at another person, discipline comes much, much faster. We might even move straight to banning someone for directly attacking a person (in a derogatory fashion).

      It’s also important to note that there’s a big difference between saying someone is ‘acting like an asshole’ vs. ‘they ARE an asshole’. It’s one of those things us serial abusers of cursing sometimes forget.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Plinko says:

        It’s also important to note that there’s a big difference between saying someone is ‘acting like an asshole’ vs. ‘they ARE an asshole’.

        I get what you’re saying, but I respectfully disagree.  We are as we act.Report

        • I think that the way we act is a large part, probably the most important part, of what we are.  And I tend to believe that more now than I did when I was a “misunderstood and sensitive youngster.”  But I think motivations and outlook and the circumstances in which one is working or living contribute to who/what one is, too.


          • Certainly.  I wouldn’t claim that assholery is a totally immutable characteristic.  But some people are more susceptible to behaving like assholes in certain circumstances than others are in those same circumstances.  And motivations and outlook good deeply to the core of who we are; as motivators of behavior they’re hard to separate from innate assholery.

            I write this, of course, as someone who has not managed to avoid being called an asshole on occasion, and not always unjustly.Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to James Hanley says:

      I deal with this with my parents.Report

  9. James K says:

    There’s a cross-cultural element to this, different cultures have different tolerances to swearing.  New Zealand, like Australia, is much more relaxed in the US.  This can be seen in everything from Sir Edmund Hillary’s comment after climbing Everest: “We’ve knocked the bastard off” (and that was in the 1950s), to Jim Bolger’s official response to suggestion he might lose the 1993 election “Bugger the pollsters!”.

    And then there’s this.Report

  10. Words do have power, though, even if the power comes “merely” from convention. If people choose to be offended by such and such a word, then using that word in front of such people evokes the feeling of being offended.  And if a given word is almost universally acknowledged to be offensive–even by those who use the word and who don’t have a personal problem with it–then it does indeed have that “power” and one who uses it, is surprised at the reaction, and assumes a “but hey….it’s just a word in the English language!” attitude comes off to me as being disingenuous at best.

    Finally, we have been talking about “fish,” and I’ll add this observation:  Although I am only mildly offended by the f-word (despite the fact I use it sometimes and even use the euphemisms I and Mark Boggs criticize above), I am very offended by the “n” word and the “c” word in most circumstances where I might hear them, and I assume most of the readers of this blog would at least claim to find those words usually offensive.



    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      I don’t find any words to be particular offensive (to me).  I understand that those two words, in particular (as well as the slag for cigarette in UK English), engender feelings of great offense on the part of a substantial portion of the population, though; I find people that use them crass and offensive on those grounds.

      Just like anybody that cussed around my grandmother (rest her soul).  Words by themselves are just words.  Communication is contextual, and involves the audience and the speaker.Report

      • I agree with your last sentence, especially.  It’s from that premise that I say words do have power and they can be, contextually, “offensive,” and if one wants to be a successful interlocutor, one should realize that fact.

        Also, to clarify what I wrote in the comment you responded to:  I can imagine contexts in which either the “n” word or the “c” word would not particularly offend me, but as a white male, I am chary of using either word.


      • Plinko in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I’m not ‘offended’ by the ‘c’ word, I do find it ‘icky’ and won’t use it.I generally find that it’s pretty much always used in an offensive manner, to be sure, but those same sentences would be pretty offensive even with a different term in it’s place.

        Of course, the other word that gives me the willies is ‘panties’, so I doubt I’m a typical case.


  11. Jaybird says:

    A brief poem from James Joyce that really, really, really seems like it would have been written by someone else entirely:

    If you see Kay
    Tell him he may
    See you in tea
    Tell him from me.Report