March 7, 2012

Expletive Deleted

In his famous Meditation 17 (the “no man is an island” poem, Brit John Donne says that “every death diminishes me.” When someone dies, we lose that piece of ourselves that was woven tightly to them. For me, the recent death of my mother has made me stop and reconsider my own life. I’ve decided to keep the best of my mom and embrace parts of who she was.
My mother did not swear.
She always managed to get her point across without swearing. I’ve always spent freely with words; shouldn’t my account contain enough verbiage to cover anger, frustration and pain?
Why do people swear?
Some researchers believe that cursing may actually provide a societal function. Swearing and cursing are modes of speech existing in all human languages, says that great bastion of all factual information, Wikipedia. Functionally similar behavior can be observed in chimpanzees, and may contribute to our understanding, notes New York Times author Natalie Angier.
It’s incredibly comforting to know that whether I scratch myself in an inappropriate way or shout profanity at my spouse, I’m in the company of monkeys.
Again from Wikipedia, Angier also notes that “swearing is a widespread but perhaps under appreciated anger management technique; that "men generally curse more than women, unless said women are in a sorority, and that university provosts swear more than librarians or the staff members of the university day care center"; and that linguistic research has shown that the physiological reactions of individuals who are proud of their education are similar between exposure to obscene words and exposure to bad grammar.”
Okay, that’s a lot. In summary, good anger management technique, better to say “X#%^&” than whack your spouse on the head with a pipe wrench.
Next, Angier said sorority girls swear less than men and university provosts swear more than librarians? My own anecdotal research in this house where one of us is a university provost or a librarian. I can tell you for sure that bad grammar upsets our Resident Librarian greatly, and sometimes causes him to swear.
While I’ve never been totally opposed to swearing, I am completely against people who use “ideal” for idea or use any of the following phrases, “I seen it,” or “I warshed the car.”
My own history with swearing begins in 1965 when I watch my father assemble a “swing-set-in-a-box” from K-Mart. There I learned a few choice words, albeit said with perfect diction and grammar, about the instructions being in Japanese.
But it wasn’t until I joined the profession of sales that I truly came into my own element. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, let me reference “Glengarry, Glen Ross.” I saw the 2005. production with Liev Schreiber and Alan Alda in New York. This 1984 David Mamet play reminds me of what the narrator Ralphie said in “A Christmas Story” about his father’s swearing. “My father worked in profanity the way other artists worked in oil or clay.”
Sales people swear. Sales managers swear. Maybe people who sell Gideon Bibles don’t swear but about 90 percent of the people I encountered in my years in the sales business gave the “F” word a run for its money and would have made Alan Alda proud. Maybe it was the constant pressure to exceed unrealistic numbers, I don’t know. But I do know that every sales meeting was like a symphony of swearing, with my ex-boss the virtuoso. “F-ing” was his favorite adjective and could be applied to anything, an “f-ing cup of coffee,” “this f-ing company,” and “let’s get some f-ing lunch.”
So now I’m going to stop. It’s not good form. It is not a good example. It’s a cheesy way to express myself, and I’m better than that.
Dang straight.