There are some great words in the English language. There are limitless combinations of ways to say what you need to say. Even many ‘bad’ words, in my opinion, have a time and a place. The thing is, however, you have to be careful in distinguishing the words you should use from the words you should admire from afar, leaving for literary experts to handle. A few that come to mind off my do-not-use list are: asinine, lackadaisical, conundrum. Great words. I know what they mean, but I couldn’t use them effortlessly in a sentence despite years of Shostak vocabulary practice with doing just that. Sometimes, handling a fabulous word incorrectly can make you look pretentious, or, in the case of swear words, downright ridiculous.
When I was teaching, I had strong censors in place on my language. Even with high-schoolers, it’s incredibly important to keep dialogue PG-rated, both to set a good example and to keep your job. The only F-words I used in my daily vocabulary were Factor, Fraction, and Formula. Occasionally on the weekends, in the comfort of my own home, I would let my guard down and let the bad words out. It’s like eating that one piece of chocolate (or two or three) when you are on a diet. You have to give yourself a little bit of freedom to be really successful. Despite my allowance of sorts, a week’s worth of choosing “Shucks!” over “Shit!” usually prevented me from using the latter altogether. In a sense, I forgot how to swear. Not that I ever really knew how…
Kevin will tell you that I am the world’s worst swearer. At least 93% of the time that swear conversationally for emphasis or to demonstrate conviction, I do so unsuccessfully. Then, in times when angry swearing is actually appropriate (if ever), I choke. Kevin has been there to witness this phenomenon twice, fortunately for him and unfortunately for me. In one case, it was in response to an unjustifiably angry bike-rider in Providence who called Kevin a “JACKASS!”*. The second was while confronting the grumpiest, rudest used-car-salesman I’ve ever met. In both cases, I blacked out. In my mind, I was launching an intelligent, profanity-infused verbal assault that highlighted my frustration while effectively putting my opponent in his place. The kind of spoken lashing that would make a person feel embarrassed by the actions that inspired my loaded words. What was actually happening, according to Kevin’s testimony is an entirely different story. Apparently, I not only neglected to incorporate swears, but I also barely gave the impression that I was angry. I thought I was issuing a counterattack consistent with the dialogue and wit of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting but it was actually more similar to that of Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo. Polite, friendly, perhaps even apologetic. “Excuse me, Mister… this is all the result of a big misunderstanding… sorry if you feel that way… blah blah blah”. I refuse to admit that it was THAT bad. I mean, I was frustrated for having been treated with such disrespect. And that’s really all I could come up with?
Me: Come on, Kevin. You’re exaggerating.
Kevin: Ok, maybe you didn’t call him ‘Mister’… it might have been ‘Sir’.
So I’m bad at swearing and worse under the pressure of confrontational situations. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying. Especially since my hiatus from teaching began three Septembers ago, I catch myself dropping more and more f-bombs into every day speech. “That’s f-ing crazy!”, “Are you f-ing serious?” I’m sorry, English teachers of my past. I know that you taught me other, less offensive ways verbalize astonishment and disbelief. I blame this habit on my husband to whom the f-word is just a multi-functional part of grammar. And he’d probably blame this on hockey. Swearing in a hockey locker room, after all, is far more socially acceptable than swearing in a classroom. Plus, being from Southie, I think everyone expects him to talk like he’s from Southie. Because, let’s face it, everyone from Boston talks like they do in The Departed. And who is Kevin to un-do the stereotype?
So here’s the obvious problem: What sounds almost natural coming from a Boston accented hockey-player does not sound the same coming from a someone like me, a friendly, non-confrontational, math-teaching MOTHER. Brayden will soon be repeating every word I say, and so this has to stop!
Which is why, as part of my New Years’ Resolutions list, I am reverting back to my teacher-appropriate language. And because I am feeling ambitious and I hate procrastinating, I am starting it early. Today. On the eve of the New Year. No more swearing. I obviously don’t want my son to swear at all. But if he ever is going to swear, I want him to swear right. And he clearly isn’t going to learn how to do that from me.
* This man, by the way, is the world’s second worst-swearer in the world for using the word “Jackass!” and thinking it was an offensive word. What I should have said in response was “I’d rather be a Jackass than a Butthead, you Butthead!”