A TIME FOR CUSSING
I did not not-cuss for purity of motive. No one in my family ever cussed. I had no role models, and I was afraid I’d screw it up. The first worst thing to happen to a fourth grader is to screw up something all his friends can do right.
I decided to study the subject of how to cuss by observing my friends at their cussing. Normally, one doesn’t really hear the cusswords; they’re just punctuation. I started listening.
It turned out there were four categories of cusswords. The least-used was the biblical taking-the-Lord’s-name-in-vain. That only counted as cussing with us when one added a "damn" after "God." It didn’t count to say somrthing like, "God! I’m hungry!"
The second group of cusswords was anatomical references. These had endless synonyms – so many that often one slipped in when there was no intention of cussing. I’d be sitting in class listening to Miss Lake going on about long division and find the kid next to me giggling. Later he’d whisper to me that she’d said a word that up until that moment I’d thought was an ordinary noun.
Miss Lake wasn’t foulmouthed; there were just too many synonyms. The danger for me was that I might spout a blue streak of synonyms and no one would realize I was cussing. The anatomicals were additionally difficult because I was unfamiliar with the female parts that made up about half of the possible choices. I thought it safer to avoid the anatomicals.
The third category was bodily functions. Truthfully, mentioning these always seemed a bit childish and no more cussing than "tinkle" or "big boom-boom" or "number two."
And that left the biggie – the acme of cussing – a term so loaded that even today it is often referred to in its bowderlized form – the "F-word." If I was to overcome my no-cussing reputation, I’d have to go to the fourth category. But that made me very uneasy because I didn’t know what was actually involved in real life F-wording. I knew that it was done with a boy and a girl, and I had a good guess what they did it with, but I had no idea how. And I sure wasn’t going to reveal my ignorance by asking someone. I’d just have to bluff.
Eventually I decided the mechanics didn’t matter. I didn’t have to understand how an engine works to drive a car, did I? Of course, I would have been a more confident fourth grader had I actually known how to drive a car, but the principle still held.
For more than a week I practiced whenever I was alone. Sometimes I stood in front of a mirror with my eyes half-closed, looking tough. Sometimes I started with my back to the mirror, then whirled around and let fly cusses. I searched for the perfect cuss-phrase to begin my cussing. I settled on "I don’t give a F-word," as my opening cuss. It had insouciance, disdain, and concealed my ignorance of the F-word’s intricacies.
We were playing baseball in the school yard when I hit a pop-foul. A big kid standing out in the street caught the ball. Instead of throwing it back, he began tossing it in the air and catching it. As the pop-foul hitter, it was my job to go recover the ball. I walked over with my hand out. The big kid ignored my entreaties. When he said he might keep the ball forever, I blistered him with my first real, out-loud cuss.
"I F-word what your F-word!" I yelled. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew I had screwed up.
"What?" he asked incredulously.
I wasn’t going to backpedal. "I said I F-word what your F-word! You F-word."
The kid laughed but he tossed me the ball. When I got back to home plate, Billy asked what I’d said. With new confidence, I explained, "I told him to give me the F-wording ball."
"I’ll be F-worded!" Billy said.