Cussing For Ladies

Last week, Rep. Rashida Tlaib used a curse word when she referred to the President. It was big news. In fact, by Friday, her cussing had received five times more coverage on cable news than Rep. Steve King’s questioning of why white supremacy is considered offensive. I have a few thoughts:

1) When I read things like that my first instinct is to swear more. It’s clear to me that expecting women to be “ladylike’ often just means we expect them to not speak at all. I think women need to speak more, and if cussing means they get heard, then I say cuss your heart out.

2) Based on the comments I read in response to opinion pieces about Rep. Tlaib’s cussing, lots of people — in both political parties — felt she should not have used language like that. Many claimed their reaction wasn’t related to the fact that she’s a woman, but I have a hard time believing it. I think we hold women to impossible standards. I agreed with this line from Michelle Goldberg’s piece: The hysteria over Tlaib’s four-syllable word is like a warning to them, and to all the women just starting their careers on the national stage, not to show how livid they really are, to stay in line.

3) I think part of the overreaction to Rep. Tlaib’s language, is that language changes, and like everything else, language changes seem to accelerate with the internet. It’s got to be a pretty exciting time for linguists and dictionary writers. : )

I remember when we moved to New York, I was shocked the first few times I heard the f-word used casually at work. You might think it’s because I grew up in a small Mormon community, but that’s not it. During college I had worked in Southern California, I had worked in D.C., and I never heard the f-word used at work. But at that time in New York (about 17 years ago), the f-word was different than it was in the rest of the country. It was used differently, and it held a different weight and different meaning. It was sprinkled into conversations and often didn’t intend offense.

From what I can tell, the New York f-word has now migrated to the rest of the country. As an example, Emily McDowell’s famous greeting card (pictured above), which was designed maybe six years ago, is carried in fine shops everywhere.

Does the f-word being used more casually mean the world has gone to the dogs? Not to my mind. I think our culture in general has become more casual — the way we dress, the way we talk. But I don’t see that as a moral issue. 

4) Personally, I don’t do a ton of swearing. As a parent, I’ve been careful with my language. I didn’t grow up swearing much and it’s never been a big thing for me. In fact, sometimes as an adult, I have felt silly when I swore, like I was pretending to be someone I’m not. But as my kids have gotten older, if they hear me cuss now and then, that’s fine with me. I suppose I don’t want them to feel like they need to be really careful with their language around me. I want them to talk the way they actually talk.

Even at young ages, I certainly haven’t wanted my kids to be afraid of words. We’ve always been open about what the cuss words are, and why they’re considered offensive. 

5) Ultimately, I find if I’m offended by words, it’s the beliefs behind them, not the cussing, that puts me on edge. Again from Michelle Goldberg’s opinion piece: When Trump called athletes who knelt to protest police brutality “sons of bitches,” the problem was bigotry, not salty language. When he was caught boasting about sexually assaulting women, the issue wasn’t that he used a slang term for female anatomy. It’s Trump’s foul actions and ideas, not his swearing, that make him a walking obscenity.

6) I remember being aware in middle school that cussing seemed pretty arbitrary. So there are words we all just agreed were bad words? I can say bum (or a whole bunch of other words for bum), but I can’t say ass? I can say poop (or a whole bunch of other words for poop), but I can’t say shit? It always felt a little false or hypocritical to me.

Related to that, my reaction to seeing someone flip the bird is usually laughing. I mean I know it’s intended to be offensive, and I totally understand that it truly offends some people. But for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to rile me up. Which reminds me, did you see the video called The Most Intense Fight I’ve Ever Seen? (Before you click, know it has lots of middle fingers.) It makes me laugh so hard.

Your turn. What’s your take on cussing? Are you careful with your language? Did your parents swear? Have your kids heard you cuss? If your kids ask you what the f word is, does it stress you out to tell them plainly? Does the Emily McDowell card bother you? And what do you think about all these female candidates for President? Will we expect them to be always ladylike? Will we give them space to be angry?

76 thoughts on “Cussing For Ladies”

  1. Although I admit to swearing (I learned at my mother’s knee- ahem) I LOATHE that I do. I always hear my Gramma saying that swearing is a lack of vocabulary, or in other words only il-read people reach for in the moment. My daughters when they were in HS used to scold me when I would slip, now, they seem to understand that there are definitely certain occasions when a good curse word can save you from insanity. Self editing is a good thing, but ya.

    However, more than being offended by *anyone* swearing I am aghast at the hypocrisy that seems to radiate constantly –from hyper criticism of a woman who chose to wear a sleeveless dress to an official event and the full and complete acceptance of another woman who was photographed numerous times, for money, nude and in less than “First Lady” poses, from being offended by one “M-F” statement and accepting multiple “M-F” statements from the official podium, some directed to other world leaders, and of course the multiple times *our* Supreme Leader, who claims to possess stable genius, chooses a variety of curse words to describe all manner of people and situations, again, from the official pulpit.

  2. I grew up in a home where there was no swearing. Except for once. And I remember it clearly 😂

    As for myself, I swear off and on in private but VERY, VERY rarely in public conversation with others. That said, my 4 kids have all heard me swear 😬🤷🏻‍♀️😢🤦🏻‍♀️😂. It’s not the end of the world, but I’m glad it’s not a common occurrence either.

    I am rarely offended when someone swears, but i do think it reveals something of their character.

    I agree that swear words are somewhat arbitrary (as you stated) but that’s an invalid argument in my mind. Of course the word in and of itself is benign. It is just a collection of letters and a descriptor. But ALL words carry a belief and an attitude behind them. Poop has a very different vibe than stool, which gives off a different vibe than shit. And that’s the point of swear words – those vocab words, be they fuck, or shit, or ass, or bitch, or any of the million other words – they are derogatory and carry either disprespect, or contempt, or they trivialize something, or imply a vulgarity and reveal an attitude of derogatory belittling.

    When someone swears it is the underlying attitude that is concerning.

    I think that it is important for society (women AND men!) to show more respect. Be passionate and persuasive and ALL FIRED UP, but do so with class and grace.

    1. Thank you! This is exactly what I was thinking. There is a level of disrespect in our conversations that I think is sad. I don’t swear and most of my friends don’t. Some of my coworkers do and I find it takes me aback every time I hear an f-bomb used casually.

  3. OF COURSE it’s because she’s a woman. The President of the United States can say whatever he wants and call anyone and everyone sons of bitches, assholes, motherfuckers, pussies….and no one reacts anymore because it’s so commonplace. Curse words don’t bother me much, and I’m not overly careful around my kids, but I can’t stand when the slants are used against women or minorities or simply against the people you have responsibility for as president. I don’t believe Rashida Tlaib would speak in such a way about the people she represents. If she wants to use strong language to call out the President, who is anything but respectful, I say she should go for it.

    Great topic as usual, Gabrielle!

  4. On the question of coverage, I get almost all my news from NPR and this is the first I hard of Rep. Tlaib’s comment. Conversely, Rep. King’s statements and the reactions of his fellow members were mentioned several times. Liberal bias? Sure. As Stephen Colbert said years ago, “Reality has a well known liberal bias.”

    1. Stephanie Alvis

      I get all my news from NPR as well. The day it happened they actually ran a front page story about her on because she is one of the first Muslims to be elected to congress. However, within a few hours that story was yanked (I tried looking for it again, it was buried) and was replaced with the story about her use of the f-word and her fellow democrats’ reaction to it. So, yah. They covered it too and backtracked pretty quick.

  5. Potty mouth here. Sometimes the English language just doesn’t cut it for me. I am open to decent suggestions for alternatives for @$$hole for example.

    1. Hahahaha! I hear you. I know that there’s a saying that cussing indicates a lack of vocabulary, but I don’t buy that. Sometimes a swear word is the exact right word to express what you are trying to express. And sure there might be a more unusual word to use, but if it’s not a word that’s widely known, then that’s not very effective communication, right?

  6. I never find swearing offensive but in certain settings (from a teacher in a professional development class, from a politician, from a judge who is on the bench) it comes across to me as simply unprofessional. It also feels a little inarticulate to me. Any truly great speaker will never have to resort to swearing to send a powerful message.

  7. I don’t find cursing offensive generally, but the problem I had with Tlaib’s remarks were more the general group hysteria behind them. It felt as if she and the people around her were whipped into the same frenzy Trump engenders at his rallies. I just found that a bit off putting. I feel the only way to defeat Trump and his group think is to remain calm, impassive and rational. No one will be able to out scream him.

  8. Ick. I never swear and never have (could count the number of times I have sworn out loud on one hand, probably not using all fingers). I’m not really sure why except that I love language and believe swearing is generally the recourse of the inarticulate and uncreative. Almost everyone I interact with does (my own parents more than me!) and it doesn’t bother me per se because it’s so commonplace, but I STILL flinch when I hear a nastier one (including every time I see that Emily McDowell card – and I generally like her work!). And to hear it from a professional in certain situations — including politicians of either gender and on either side of the aisle — is just disappointing to me, and makes me respect them less.

  9. At my work – typically office environment at an insurance company – nobody cusses. That type of language just isn’t used. However my husband works in a hospital and he says they frequently use curse words. Everyone does it. Not in front of patients of course. But it’s extremely common place. Strange how that happens.

    1. The hospital environment is probably more stressful. Articles have been written in the analgesic effect Of f-bombs.

  10. Personally, I swear quite a lot. I enjoy it. I feel like it is a health way to address frustrations. Much better than punching people or hoarding resentment. If my kids got in trouble for salty language I always knew where they’d learned those words.

    Professionally, I would never swear in front of a client, judge, or opposing counsel. I think we have lost a great deal by abandoning public decorum. Although, the word “motherfucker” pops into my head quite frequently when dealing with difficult people I would not use it because I know how much easier it is to accomplish your goals when you treat even the most hostile motherf***ers with respect.

    The hysteria over Tlaib’s statement is clearly and offensively sexist.

    1. “I know how much easier it is to accomplish your goals when you treat even the most hotile motherf***ers with respect”…. HA!!! So F***ing true! So well said… thanks for the laugh!

  11. I’m not much of a swearer, but do say a cuss word every once in a great while (in front of other people, I swear ALL the time in my head). Most people are really surprised when I do swear, but there are some situations where no other word quite relays what you’re trying to say. That said, I would never swear in a professional setting (maybe with co-workers in a private setting, but not during a meeting/to my boss/etc.). I don’t usually mind other people swearing, but dislike when people say f*** or sh** every other word- that seems unnecessary and a bit uneducated.

    I do think that the reaction to Tlaib’s words are very much an attack on women/minorities. There’s this expectation that women in politics should be way better “behaved” and “respectful” than their male counterparts (surely saying a swear word is far less of an issue than raping/sexually assaulting a woman, but the conservatives would rather shun the first than address the latter).

  12. I swear like a sailor. I do. I’m not necessarily proud of it. However, there is a time and a place for it.
    I work in a very public-oriented job. When we managers are alone in our group office, anything goes, bitch and moan all you want. But when dealing with the public or our employees we are professional and keep it that way. If I, a working class citizen, can know the difference and act accordingly, I expect my Representatives to be respectful of their roles and conduct themselves professionally. It is still important to preserve some public decorum, can’t we all agree on that?
    I was once told that we use the term “professional” to differentiate those that do something as a hobby vs. those that are good enough to get paid for it. Think like PROFESSIONAL baseball player vs. an amateur. It comes down to a level of professionalism and etiquette that I expect out of all members of the United States legislative, judicial, and executive branches. Rep. Tlaib didn’t make it through her first day on the job without resorting to swearing. I think it speaks to the fact that she’s an amateur. Not really a label I would want if I had worked so hard in the previous cycle to be elected. I hope she sees it as a learning experience and can grow from it.

  13. I am a swearer. I was raised by a swearer. BUT, it’s always been with a specific recognition of how it comes across and what it means. My dad used swear words the way I think you’re referring to the New York f-word. It was casual. Dropped in the middle of sentences like any other word. That said, my sister and I knew from an early age that we were not supposed to say these words–they felt somehow illicit coming from us, while totally normal coming from my dad (or other adults). I remember him actually having a talk with us about it when we were a little older: he explained that because he uses swear words so frequently, he certainly could never ask us NOT to. At the same time, he wanted us to understand that we could get in trouble if we used them outside of our house, like at school. He also explained that other people might find them offensive, or that we could get our friends in trouble if they began using them after hearing us use them. I took that to heart, and it’s similar to how I speak to my boys about swearing.

    As a young adult, in college and right afterwards, I swore A LOT. It felt natural, and I used to joke about my “sailor’s mouth.” Most of my friends were guys, and somehow I probably felt that it made me more like “one of the guys.” (Funny how–just as you’ve pointed out–it somehow seems radical for women but normal for men.) Now that I’m a parent I swear much less and try to avoid it in front of my young kids. That said, if something slips we don’t treat it as a big deal. I also enjoy letting loose a bit more with my language when I’m out with other adults, since it feels a little like I’m getting back to the version of me that’s not just a mom…like somehow feeling comfortable with those words is a part of my personality I don’t want to lose altogether.

    I love the idea of giving women space to be angry. Yes to all the cuss words when it comes to tweeting about our President! That said, I also want all women’s anger to be taken seriously, and I fear that if we let loose our fury in a torrent of four letter words it may be seen as excessive or hysterical. As much as I want to blame that on the patriarchy, I think I’d feel a little bit hesitant about any male politician who did the same. So perhaps for now we just stick with a few well-worded, well-placed cuss words :)

  14. I was born ( in 1946 ) swearing. I love curse words and have always used them. I have no idea where this came from. My Mother was a very prissy lady and I never heard her swear, nor did anyone swear in front of her. I don’t remember my Father swearing much. I don’t even remember where I picked up the words, from books I’m sure. I remember reading Lady Chatterlys Lover maybe I was in 7th or 8th grade and coming up with a 3 page list of sex words. My Mom used to complain that she couldn’t have any reading material without 10 year old finger prints all over it. ( She worked and I would come home from school and read her novels.) The local librarian gave me a lot of freedom in picking books as long as I gave her a report and could answer her questions. I read and still read at least 4 books a week. So maybe it’s a literary thing for me.

    1. Your 3-page list of sex words made me laugh! I could not have been more naive about sex in middle school. I remember reading all the Flowers in the Attic books and the sex just went over my head.

  15. Words have meaning. Shit may mean the same thing as poop but what does “Have yourself a *sexing* good day” mean? Sounds like inappropriate grammar to me. I think the F-word is just a dumb word to throw into your vocabulary.

    1. Rep. Tlaib could have been just as insulting to Trump without bringing his mother into it. That is just mean to Mrs. Trump (poor woman) and WAY below any professional level.

    2. Impeach the motherfucker already is a movement/phrase that was started by Dan Savage almost immediately after the election (I think). You’ll see ITMFA hats, pins, shirts that are sold on, with proceeds going to ACLU, Planned Parenthood and other organizations.

      I don’t think anyone really ever thinks of the word motherfucker literally.

      1. “I don’t think anyone really ever thinks of the word motherfucker literally.”

        I agree with this. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in reference to someone’s actual mother.

      2. I popped in here to say the same – ITMFA is already a huge movement, a spin-off of one of Dan’s ongoing pieces of advice – DTMFA (dump the MFer already!). I’m assuming it had at least something to do with that.

        I’m a potty mouth through and through, which can be tracked back to 9th grade band camp :D :D Started there and never did stop. I do swear a fair amount in front of my kids…they know not to repeat, but I dont like for certain words to hold that much power.

  16. So interesting as I have always had a problem with how the f-word is used. So ‘fuck’ means to have sex, yes? But when you say ‘fuck you’, does it still? If it still does, does that imply that you want the other person to enjoy sexual intercourse? I don’t think so. It’s meant as a pretty aggressive insult. So now we’re mixing sexual intercourse up with aggression. Typical of our culture. And then as an adjective it can be used either positively as with your greeting card or you could read that card with an angry tone and it means the opposite. So then again we’re mixing sex up with anger. That’s my problem with the word.

    1. I should add that I totally support women swearing since this is the actual topic of your discussion : ). And I’m going to send a donation to Rep. Rashida Tlaib as she may be the most honest politician we have now as she was saying what so many are thinking. I respect her for that.

      1. Yes, and SOB is obviously an insult to someone’s mother, while bastard also implies something negative about the mother. The old insult cuckold also denigrates women. So many of these words are really mixed up with sex and gender. It’s really interesting. (This from someone who definitely swears, usually out of frustration, though I never use SOB, bastard or cuckold!)

    2. In German the most common swear word is “Scheiße” – shit I ‘d say. (Fuck or alternatives: probably not so much.) I wonder what that says about our culture?
      If anyone knows more about this and I am totally wrong, please feel free to correct me. :)

      1. Haha! We lived in Germany for 6 years and I picked up “Scheiße”. When I use it here in the US, I feel like I’m secret swearing.

      2. I live in Germany and I have always heard that Scheiße meant shit, but Germans use it so casually that I think it is more on the level on crap instead of shit. I work at a kindergarten (preschool) and no one bats a eye when 4 year olds use the word Scheiße. That being said, Germans love English curse words and use them frequently and much more casually than I think we do in the US. I hear kids using shit and fuck all of the time hear. Both of my kids (8 and 11 years old) picked up the phrase what the fuck at school. Haha! We had to have a talk about that one. I wonder if the intensity of the words did not translate here because those words are not bleeped out of movies and songs on the radio here. Just a theory.

    3. Yes Kelly! I’ve always wondered about that too! I don’t curse. (I did call my kids lazy turds once.) but I’m with Gabby on cursing that it just seems so arbitrary.
      Oddly the f word doesn’t bother me though, especially now that it seems to be used casually, but in writing I feel like more effort should be made. It’s like movies with bad dialogue and nudity thrown in for no purpose as far as the story line goes.
      One more thing about cursing is that I feel like in years past (before it became more casual) it was used more for emphasis—you know, to show how mad you really are. I’ve always felt like we could just get straight to the point and not beat around the bush. You know when a kids bangs a door or something to show how angry they are when why don’t they just say “I’m mad because….” and let’s deal with it but instead they think they have to prove how mad they are and hope they get a reaction and maybe an argument.
      I’m flabbergasted by the backlash on rashida tlaib. I shouldn’t be but I feel like they’re mad she got in on the big boys club and used their terminology against them.

    4. Awesome topic – I completely agree with Kelly – I’ve always thought about the connection between sex and aggression with both the F word, and the middle finger. Like when a guy flips you the bird, to me there’s something disgusting about it – violent, it’s like a threat – why else would he being saying “F YOU” to me – it’s less about the situation and more about anger and power and violence. What is he threatening me with? Rape? I mean, literally, that is what it is saying, right?

      As for the M-F word/expression, again, what is being said there? What a huge insult to mothers (as is MILF). It’s really disgusting if you ask me.

  17. Great discussion! Funny, I just had a conversation last night with my middle daughter (age 10) about cuss words. She told me she cusses a lot in her head, lol, and that she learned all of the words from the Hamilton soundtrack, ha. Also, I’ve thought about it in terms of the new acronym I’ve seen on everything — “AF.” I had to look it up to make sure it meant “As Fuck” which I assumed but then when I saw teenagers with it, I questioned.

    I also cuss occasionally, often at drivers who cut me off, and I tell my girls that sometimes it’s just the “right” word for the situation.

    Regarding Rep. Rashida Tlaib, I’m still in disbelief that she got so much attention about using the word/phrase despite ALL the things Trump has said. Gosh, I’m still in disbelief about a lot of things since November 2016, sigh.

    1. This made me chuckle and cringe because I am sure my 10 year old has learned ALL the swear words from Hamilton. Oh well, he’s learned lots of history too?!

    2. AF makes me laugh because those are my (married) initials and my daughter’s initials. So any time I see something with my initials on it, that’s what i think of and chuckle about it.

      Fittingly enough, for such a potty mouth, the first two letters of our last name are also F-U – so any time I have to spell my name out, I either say the first FOUR letters – F-U-L-L, or just start with F-U and chuckle to myself as well.

  18. There was absolutely no swearing in our home growing up unless my parents were very very angry about something.

    I have a young child and our house rule is “there are no bad words, only bad intentions.” So if you use a word intending for it to hurt or harm someone, that is a bad word. Otherwise, anything goes. I don’t censor my language around her other than carefully thinking about my intention behind what I’m saying. I swear quite a bit in casual conversation. Much like the New York fuck you mentioned above. In fact, when something is really great “that’s fucking awesome!” is a common phrase. ha!

    I do have a professional job in a corporate environment and I have never once used that language at work. I’m not offended by Rep. Tlaib’s use of motherfucker. Especially in reference to Donald Trump. He is one of the vilest and most horrible human beings.

    I want the women running for president to be treated JUST like the men running for president. They should be allowed to be fired up and angry and not held to some bullshit “ladylike” standard.

  19. We expect the women presidents to be ladylike, just like we expect our male presidents to be gentlemen. I think Trump cusses too much in public. One reason I miss Obama is how gentleman-like he was. Genuinely gracious and graceful. Each of those attributes I just described two male presidents with would also be expected in a female president. (Someone who rarely cusses in public, I mean.)

    My mom cussed when we were kids, but she also apologized and explained herself: she was a softball player as a teenager, and sportsplayers in general, according to get, do not have good language. She cussed only in the kitchen when she burned herself. But neither of my parents taught me what cuss words were or what they meant, so middle school was a shock.

    Now, I have given my eldest child language lessons at the beginning of every school year. In kindergarten, it was simple: here are five words you will hear at school. They are bad. My lessons got more complex as he got older, involving a chalkboard and writing them down. He’s now in third grade, and he told me he doesn’t need a language lesson this year. Good, because his little sister will start kindergarten next year.

  20. I started cursing in my 30s. I grew up with “shut up” being considered extremely harsh, so curse words were completely forbidden. But as I started to move through life, I realized there were certain times a good curse word was the only thing warranted. I try not to curse in front of my children, as I want them to build a range of vocabulary words before they grab for those words. But, I now encourage my mother to curse as much as she can — it can be very freeing to use the ‘bad words’ with abandon!

    1. You encouraging your mother to curse made me smile. When I see an older woman who has “no more effs to give” and is just doing her thing I find it so encouraging.

  21. I just binged the first two seasons of The Good Place so I’ve been saying “forking” and “shirt” and “ashhole” a lot lately. I like it. :)

  22. My parents let me listen to George Carlin’s vinyl record that had all the swear words you can’t say on tv. I loved it so much! I swear in my car mostly.

  23. I guess it’s all very personal. I find some words and phrases to be very offensive – some of them include “curse words” and some don’t. I find some “curse words” not very offensive at all. Anything that has its roots in offending someone’s mother (whether or not it is used that way literally anymore) is inappropriate to be used at any time, in my opinion. Anything that has ever been used as a slur to denigrate a specific minority or the traits of someone who has been thought as lesser (even though they are not) is also always inappropriate. We can’t argue that words mean everything but also don’t necessarily mean anything. We also can’t decide which words are offensive to other people. I also am not a big fan of “taking back” offensive words, but that’s just my personal thought.

    So some words like “ass” and “shit”, to me, are arbitrary as curse words (as far as my knowledge of their origins) – and although I don’t say them, i don’t see the difference between them and the replacement words I do use (things like “shiz” “shirt” or even “crap”) and I could never bring myself to say the f-word except when I’m by myself and VERY VERY angry because I know it’s typically considered one of “the worst”, but I’ve said angrily and loudly “F” (just the letter) with the same intention – so what’s the difference? None, really.

    But other words: In English, the n-word, the r-word, b-word, c-word, p-word, mother-anything, the other derogatory “f” word – find these all to be very offensive and am always very disappointed when people (especially white hetero males) use them in regular usage and especially when they’re trying to say something negative about someone. I mind LESS when it’s someone who is reclaiming it, but I’m still not a fan because the history of the word carries a lot of subconscious weight, in my opinion!

    I’m also disappointed when people aren’t cautious of their language (whether they’re cursing or not) around my small children (or other people’s children). But why? is that arbitrary too?? It seems like it, but I still can’t shake that I don’t like it!

  24. I grew up in a house where words like “sucks,” “fart,” and “shut up” were not acceptable, so swearing wasn’t allowed. My brother and I still don’t swear in front of my mom, simply out of respect. (My brother’s girlfriend was a little slow to catch on, though. Ha,ha.) My mom doesn’t swear, like ever. My dad has never heard her swear either. My dad swore some, but it was mild. That being said, I can very much appreciate a well-placed cuss word whether it be for emphasis or humor. When they are said out of anger or another harsh emotion, I tend not to like them as much. I do agree with a few commenters above who mentioned professionalism. For me, gender has nothing to do with it. If someone is in a position of leadership, and he/she is speaking publicly while on the job, I expect a higher level of tact and intelligence. I hold myself to this standard at work. While I might swear when talking privately with a close coworker, I’d never swear in a meeting or with a client/consumer/student or in electronic communications, etc. In my opinion, it’s just not appropriate, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to someone who may not appreciate that set of words. And at times, I think it can come across as a lack of self-control depending on how the words are used, too.

  25. This is interesting. One of the many things that I loathe about Trump is how HORRIBLY he communicates and expresses himself. In so many ways. It seems a very outward cue/clue to his inner idiocy. It’s also one of the many ways that he seems beneath his office. It’s true that cussing is more ‘mainstream’. But. I like that Obama and those before him, male and female, exhibited a certain respect for the position via eloquent expression. It’s not a trend that I look forward to seeing more of in public office.

  26. You’ve articulated all of this so perfectly (I was nodding along to the whole piece), and I appreciate the comments. That said, and maybe I’ve just been in NYC for too long, I wish there were an even stronger word to describe The Donald (aka “the walking obscenity”), and I cannot agree with her sentiment enough. Get. Him. Out.

  27. I see swearing as a way of talking and I’m terms of talking, people can be much more horrible with their words than using swear words. I find malicious gossip to be worse than the occasional hellshitdamn. If my stomach doesn’t turn when someone speaks unkindly about another person but it does when I hear my husband say “shit” when he stubs his toe, we have problems.

  28. I found Tlaib’s use of m*****-f***** offensive because I found it unprofessional and inflammatory. Personally, I share her distaste for our president, but I found her tweet to be out of line – just as I would find any male politician’s curse-laden tweet about bringing down another person also offensive. Like someone said, it’s the intention that bothers me more than the word, but the word amplifies it.

    I don’t swear, and I am not very happy by the incursions cursing has made into our everyday speech. It’s frustrating to be raising my kids not to swear and then to hear “hell” and “damn” on public radio (come on, NPR!). Go ahead and swear in appropriate contexts, but not everyone likes to hear swear words and obscene language just tossed into your sentences. They’re curse words, not just everyday parts of speech.

    That said, I can find the use of swear words dones with a wink, like the card above, to be funny. Our neighbor has a cookbook that is full of curse words, but they use it to be funny. “Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F****” The back reads, “Food so good you can swear by it.” It’s that intentional playfulness of the language that I find funny. But when it’s not used intentionally, I find it coarse.

  29. Swear words are my jam. Curse words only have power because we give it to them. The perfect examples? How many kids have had trouble pronouncing an “r” and called a “fork” a “fuck”? (To endless giggles from the adults.) Just last week my kid was trying to read a Tweety Bird sign in a local restaurant. Having not watched much Looney Toons, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat” became “I twat I twa a puddy tat.” Repeatedly. (She’s 9.) We giggled…then as parents we explained that twat is a word that has come to be a “swear” word for a girls private parts. She was embarrassed at first, but we explained she simply made a pronunciation error, she wasn’t being rude, and she certainly wasn’t in trouble for it. As with all other swear words, they aren’t to be used in general public and if you’re going to say one, the intent and meaning must be used correctly.

    Below are a few links you might find interesting. I keep them around for when people act like cursing means I’m less intelligent/well read/classy.

    If you swear, you probably have a LARGER vocabulary.

    People who swear tend to be more honest.

    Swearing is a sign of a higher IQ.

    Cursing helps your pain tolerance.

    Primates “swear” too.

  30. I like using descriptive words…and cuss words are great descriptors! And I say them all the time, to get my point across. I got in trouble at work once for telling some clowns that they were “grown ass adults” and should stop complaining about something…so i get the implications the words have. But I’ll still use them! With that said…We always say to our kids, “These are adult words, you can hear them but you can’t say them…yet.” But that doesn’t stop them sometimes, and we have to have a big conversation about it.

  31. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to understand why and how it was that some words were bad, some not. Were there rules? Who said so? For want of answers, I allowed myself some cussing.

    My native American friend was heart broken when her husband told her in their language to “Go to the Devil’s house.” If he had said only “Go to the devil,” she would not have been crushed.

    I have concluded, along with others here, that life is better without it–more refined, genteel. More a demonstration of strength of character and of self-control and thereby a subtle show of respect to those around you.

    In my view, the lights shine brighter in people and in homes that just keep it out.

  32. I’m a journalist. I consider myself to have a pretty wide vocabulary – and I also consider swear words to be a descriptive and colourful part of that arsenal! I actively enjoy swearing in certain situations, I find it very satisfying to have a range of words to use for any situation, and I suppose that includes some words that others would prefer not to use.

    I also work in an environment that has to be one of the sweariest out there (at least in a professional field). Newsrooms are tense, high pressure places and there’s a LOT of swearing.

    Having said all of that, I have a little girl and I do actively watch my tonge around her. I don’t mind if she hears me swear now and again in an exceptional circumstance, but as her vocabulary expands I want her to understand that not all words are appropriate for all situations.

    What it boils down to, I think, is that I use swear words as a descriptive term, never a term of derision focused towards other people. I would much rather my daughter said f*** than called people ‘gay’ or ‘retard’ or any number of other careless phrases and terms I find deeply hurtful and upsetting towards others.

  33. I thought what she said was fine – the POTUS has said the same word, in the same way, to significantly less fanfare.

    OF FUCKING COURSE it’s because she’s a woman.

    I grew up in a deeply religious household and used to try out swears under the covers, desperate to drum up some of the power they HAD to hold, on the basis of how forbidden they were. I could not. Now I’m a New Yorker, and don’t even hear “the f word” if it’s dropped into conversation. I’m hoping this kiddo I’m about to have grasps the difference.

    Context is important, too. “It’s fucking cold and the subway is late.” is mild in my mind; “Fuck you, lady!” is not. Pointing swears AT people is the thing. I don’t do the latter (unless I’m VERY CLEARLY joking), but would utter the former without so much as registering I said something naughty.

    My grandmother complained once that my generation swore a lot. I pointed out she used language that hurt people, while I didn’t. Her worst hits are the “r word” for neurodivergent people, “coloured” for black people, or “oriental” for Asian people.

  34. I believe language is powerful, and the state of the culture in our country right now is related to the way we speak to each other.

    Personally, I enjoy a good F-bomb in the right situation and the older I get, the more comfortable I am dropping one in casual conversation.

    On the other hand, in situations of great responsibility and in matters of import, I believe the language should match the moment. I find myself appalled at our country’s leadership every day, especially our commander-in-chief, never more than when weighty matters are referred to with language that is derogatory, careless, and doesn’t respect the situation. I long for a leader who speaks thoughtfully although I’d take one who is thoughtful in their actions over their speech, but wouldn’t it be nice to have both?

    I agree that the response to Rep. Tlaib’s language has been overwhelmingly sexist, and that her sentiments were honest and reflect the feelings of many Americans (including me). I also think it’s OK to hope we can raise the discourse at the same time that we raise concerns about our country’s leadership.

  35. Words are funny things. I think that often times it comes down to semantics.
    What meaning we attach to words. We were taught when we were younger “sticks and stones may break your bones but words can do permanent damage.” We didn’t do potty talk, not even the word potty haha. My mom would say urinate and bowel movement and crumb and criminy. As we all got older and some things in our family started to hit the fan the swearing flood gates were opened. As a little girl in Provo I was mortified. I remember my brothers fighting when I was younger and one of them running out the door and yelling at the top of his lungs “f@#$ you!” to whoever was listening. I remember thinking that our whole neighborhood probably heard him and I thought that was the worst thing could ever happen. I was probably about 9 at the time. I have heard a lot of words since then and seen a lot more of life since then. That brother is dead now, my sister is in and out of jail and mental institutions and the weight of specific words has diminished. I know that there are way worse things. The context of words and the intent of words mean a lot more to me than the actual word. When my dad would say that words can do permanent damage I don’t think he meant shit damn or hell or any other number of four letter words. I was far more scarred by the preppy, popular, good two shoes jock older brother of a friend who asked me at her birthday party with ten other 10 year old little girls if I liked to smoke cigarettes and drink bear with my brother. I would have rather called me a little sh*@ or a little b@#% than use words to purposefully humiliate me. knowing that same person today I would guess he still swears rarely but probably still humiliates the vulnerable any chance he gets.

    I go back to context. Swearing doesn’t usually bother me that much. I do think that it is thoughtful when people read their audience and avoid swearing when it would hurt someone. I think that swearing can sometimes distract from someones message. I also think that it’s ridiculous that someone will discount all of what someone might say because they include swearing or vulgarity. I think most often it’s as simple as reading the room. I personally don’t swear alot when I am around people who would feel offended and maybe I swear a little more when I am around people who can take it. I actually never say some of the more vulgar swears because I think like another commenter says they are traditionally sexist or are associated with violence to me. That doesn’t mean they mean that to everyone so I can usually handle some of them when others use them. I encourage my children not to swear because I don’t want them to be written off as pests, or ignorant or disrespectful. I sometimes use the basic swears in front of them but I let them know that I have earned each one of those swears ; ) I also have told my kids that I would rather hear a four letter word out of them any day of the week than some of the words that were commonly used when I was younger to refer to minorities, or slang that is a derivative of a racial slur. I could write a book on my experience with and thoughts about words and their meanings. I just wrote lots of them here haha

  36. Interesting conversation! I used to swear more in college but have tried to minimize it—not due to any moral reason but because I’ve learned that cuss words carry more weight the less frequently they are used. If I never say “f*ck” to certain people, they sure listen when I finally do! And that can be really valuable…when let’s say the guy who always rubs girls’ shoulders casually (without asking) finally rubs yours, saying “don’t fucking touch me” holds a lot of weight. (Speaking from personal experience here ;).

  37. You are a breath of fresh air! It’s so nice to read something on the internet that is exactly as I would say it, and not something that makes me want to throw my phone across the room.

  38. I love to swear. Absolutely f*cking love it. :)

    Now – this doesn’t mean I walk around cursing all day. I have two little kids and my husband and I are very careful with the language we use around them. (We even try to steer them clear of “stupid,” though they call me out on using that one all the time). I also don’t swear AT people.

    BUT – there are certain situations where only a swear word will do. I’m a journalist, so swearing is a normal part of our newsroom discourse (it would be SO interesting to talk about which workplaces condone swearing, and which don’t). I remember hearing my editor-in-chief swear on his first day and being totally delighted. (I thought, “he’s one of us.”).

    There have been studies that show swearing helps us deal with pain. Swear words have power, and when used in specific contexts, they can punctuate our conversation, surprise us, and, yes, make us feel good.

  39. Unrelated, but maybe it is: I happily cursed up a blue storm in a morning staff meeting today, relieved after a four-day weekend of watching my mouth now that my toddler has started parroting everything he hears. (I swear, he’s trying to say “sit”!)

  40. Fun fact: most English swear words are Anglo Saxon terms (shit, ass, etc). The Saxons were in a lower class than the Normans, so their language was stigmatized as base, dirty, and unrefined. So there’s actually a pretty interesting classist element to English swearing.

  41. A group of friends and I were talking about Representative Tlailb’s use of profanity when referring to Trump. My position was that it was regrettable. Not because she is a woman, but because she effectively buried the lead! Now the story is not about her, her accomplishment, our awful President and his awful policies, but about her swearing. Granted, she opened up a conversation about the use of language, but is that helping anything??

    We recently celebrated MLK day – his eloquent and POWERFUL quotes floating across all social media sites. Never once did he need to add emphasis or fight fire with fire by tucking in a good curse word. MLK elevates our thought. “Motherfucker” does not.

  42. I also don’t think that people use the term “son of a bitch” and think literally, the “male offspring of a female dog.” It’s developed alternative meanings over time.

    1. At a super young age I realized the power of colorful language and used it to spice up private conversations cuz there’s no good substitute for a great curse word at times. The response from people always intrigued me and did seem rather sexist.

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