What you are about to read contains adult language done to the best of my ability and strengths. Please be advised to proceed at your own risk and sensibilities—PS Sorry, Mom.
What’s your favorite swear word? What’s that naughty go-to when you smash your big toe into the corner of the coffee table, or when a pedestrian steps out into the middle of the street, sans crosswalk, and you have to slam on your brakes? What’s that knee-jerk obscenity your mother would never approve of? Don’t lie. I know you have one!
A few weeks ago I stood outside my neighbor’s house talking to a couple of my good friends. It was a Friday evening, hot, and close to eleven o’clock. As often happens, the conversation swerved towards our children—both of mine are a lot older than any of theirs—twenty and sixteen-years-old compared to eleven-years-old, down to infancy. Sometimes I find talking about our kids hard. What can I bring to the conversation of play dates and nap times? I mean, I’m the one now, who needs play dates and a nap.
Anyway, one of the women said how proud she was that her daughter didn’t know real swear words. The girl had announced to her parents that she knew the “d-word” stood for dye, as in hair dye, and that the “s-word” was a stand-in for shut up.
It was funny and appropriate—the girl is around six or seven-years-old and shouldn’t be cussing like a trucker. However, my issue is that most adults I associate with don’t swear right either. Why? Because it’s in our culture not to.
Let me explain, I live in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital, and Mormon Mecca. Mormonism is the dominant religion of the state. Its official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or LDS for short. Mormon is a nickname derived from the secondary Bible taught from, the Book of Mormon. It’s a very conservative religion for a very conservative state, and cursing is looked down upon. Because of our unique urbanity, Mormons don’t swear properly. I know, I know—who cares? What’s the big deal? Nothing. I only bring it up because it’s weird.
Most cusswords used in Utah sound like third graders made them up. I call the phenomenon, morfanity, as in Mormon-profanity. Here’s how it works: Mormon adults will impose the first letter of any expletive or will swap the whole word for a second one altogether. For example, saying shoot instead of shit or using dang, darn, or d-word, in favor of damn. Beast, be-otch and simply just the letter b as in “she is such a b,” is used to represent the word bitch.
Heck and Hades (which is less used) are Hell stand-ins. Another word, God, when not used during a sermon, is blasphemous and is replaced by gosh or the word goodness. A predicate to, and a combination of two swears is G and D, as in, “That G.D. guy and his G.D. Pit Bull,” meaning having disdain for a man and his pet, but, I think this combo is reserved for people over the age of seventy—it’s the law. Stranger still, the acronym omg is okay because it can stand for oh-my-gosh or oh-my-goodness.
Other intensifier-peculiarities are abundant like b-hole, is a modified version of butt-hole, which is a milder ass-hole, or in Utahan, a-hole. Jackass and ass are sometimes used and sometimes not—this, it seems, is dependent on the curser’s age.
Ironically, the most spoken curse word among Mormons replaces the most offensive word in our language: The big, bad, F-dot-dot-dot. F-ing (pronounced as F’en) or its adverb, F-er, meaning a person who is an F, Fetch and Fetchin’, as well as Freakin’ and of course, f-word, are the vulgar word’s replacements along the Wasatch front. Which makes it maddening, as well as impotent for any de-escalation.
Think about it—you are minding your own business, driving five miles—six at the most—over the speed limit, when you are nearly sideswiped by someone texting on their cell phone, who then, weaves into your lane cutting you off.
You are terrified. That fear melts into a rage. You are furious, but you are also a Temple-card-carrying Mormon with fifteen kids strapped into car seats behind you. Now, the only word that peels off your curled lips is F-ing. F-ing! How much better do you feel now? F-ing! How satisfying is that? Not really satisfying at all—maybe that’s why Utahans consume the most antidepressants in the nation? Or perhaps not—What does that have to do with swearing wrongly, anyway?
It could be that the real reason we don’t know how to swear has to do with the good book? I had a friend whose parents claimed that any word used in the Bible was not a real swear word. I pictured her dad getting angry and spitting out something along the lines of, “Gosh damn, you ass! What in the hell were you thinking? You freakin’ b.” It’s like listening to Mickey Mouse with Tourette syndrome, huh? But it has always been like this around here.
When I was in second grade, a boy moved in from a different state and attended Bates Elementary School. He was the shiny new toy, and everyone wanted to be near him. At recess, a circle of admirers surrounded the newbie. I introduced myself. When he didn’t respond, I introduced myself again. The kid looked right at me and said, “No shit, Sherlock.”
Never in the history of Bates Elementary (grades K-6th) has there ever been a more devious, disdainful offense, and it cracked the asphalt, de-roped the jump ropes, and made every hopscotch rock crumble.
A unison shock of oooh sounded and ricocheted off the yellow brick school building. Someone told our teacher, Ms. Nielson, even before recess ended. The boy wasn’t shiny and new after that. In fact, I don’t recall his existence from that point on. If only he knew of some kind of swear word stand-in like, “No shoot, Sherlock.” Doesn’t have the same impact though, does it?
Utahans didn’t come up with alternative swearwords. Loopholes to cursing are universal. My siblings and I took German in school just so my parents wouldn’t know we were sharing obscenities. Although, how bad is shweinhund (pronounced swine-hund) in America for people without any German history? It is likened to the British word bloody for us Yankees who now associate it with loveable Harry Potter. Pish-Posh—big whoop!
Throughout history, there have been kids who spread this swearing knowledge onto their younger, more impressionable peers, leaving a wake of guilt and shame. My sister, Em, was sent to the Principal’s office and our mom was called when she, learning how to read for the first time, phonetically read out loud the f-word, scrawled in pencil on the school wall in front of an older, wiser, schoolmate.
Once a fifth grader had me say “got-down-and-sat-on-a-bench” three times in rapid secession. To my horror, at the fastest speed and on the third try, I realized that it sounded like I was saying, “God damn, son-of-a-bitch.”
Ms. Nielson was told about my blunder. I cried the whole time I recreated the scene for her. Luckily, because my teacher was as kind as she was beautiful—an ex-Rodeo Queen—I was forgiven and allowed to get a drink from the drinking fountain during class.
These experiences are not subject to my area alone, however. Remember standing in a circle with a group of kids and mouthing the word vacuum slowly? I do. In fact, this happened while I was visiting my grandma in Seattle, hanging out with her next-door neighbor’s children. I’m pretty sure I remember you standing there, blushing and giggling, too!
So? What now? Why is this important to talk about? Because when you get to a certain age, you need to know what you’re saying and how it’s perceived. I mean, even if it’s not the real curse word, the way it’s used and said, makes it one doesn’t it? Besides, the English language is vast and exotic, choose another word to describe what you think and feel. But then again, I’m told it’s a free country, even in Utah, and if you’re going to swear, then swear, damn it, swear!
Nothing’s worse than a seventeen-year-old high school student who calls a passing female a son-of-a-bitch or the fifty-year-old spewing angst by calling someone a mother-trucker. It’s pathetic, and I have contempt for idiocracy!
As for the grown-ups around here, when saying things like heck, dang, and f-ing, among mixed and state-diverse company, we sound like a backward 1950’s society and gibbering morons. And I’d hate it if moron and Mormon became interchangeable. I ask you, fellow Utahans, wouldn’t you?