Profanity-Laced Tirade


Our Daily Correspondent


No cussing! A postcard ca. 1909.

The following human-interest story ran recently on Metro UK:

A grandmother who once hated the idea of swearing now turns the air blue after a stroke left her unable to control her potty mouth …

‘Before I had a stroke I would still get annoyed at things but I could control my upset, however now I just can’t help it,’ she said.

The retired bank worker says her swearing particularly irks her husband, as he used to be a head teacher and therefore has an obvious aversion to swearing.

She has introduced a swear box since her stroke last January in an attempt to train her brain, and is also receiving help from psychologists.

Of course, nowadays, not cursing is more noteworthy than swearing like a sailor. I’ve never been very good at cursing, personally. There was a very brief vogue in my middle-school homeroom for trying to get me to curse; it corresponded with general mockery of my uptightness. But I stand by that; I think I understood that however ludicrous a tiny, flannel-clad nerd trying to be dignified might have been, the same tiny, flannel-clad nerd peppering her speech with profanity would have been more ludicrous still. The problem is that I never learned to do it, and to this day in moments of extremis will give voice to ejaculations like, Oh, gosh! Gee whiz! Drat! And, when things get really bad, Darn it!

But then, I don’t come from much of a swearing family. Even the grown-ups didn’t go in for what my mother calls “coarse language,” and we kids wouldn’t have dared. (As with many normal things, however, my brother seems to have taken to it much more easily than I.) With the exception of the famous occasion on which she listed cunt on her Boggle scorecard—“isn’t this a word?”—my grandmother never used words stronger than fouled up. As for my grandfather, he managed to invest his gin-playing epithets—“DAMMIT!” “I’LL BE DIPPED!”—with such rage and menace that the words themselves were almost immaterial.

Cursing may coarsen the culture and display a lack of verbal imagination, but it is a useful skill to have. Back when those kids used to tease me, I remember replying with dignity that I like to be able to use the same language with my grandmother that I do the rest of the time, and thinking that this was a really good answer. But then, there are grandmothers and grandmothers. As the article tells us, Preston “has even called her grandchildren ‘little b******s’ when they were playing up.”