One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

When Life is Complicated: 5 Rules for the Proper Use of Curse Words

When Life is Complicated:  
5 Rules for the Proper Use of Curse Words
By Anna Giattina Lee

Trigger Warning:  Some bad words were used in the writing of this article, but none were harmed.

When my kids hear another kid say a bad word they always shout, “Mooooom, so and so said the “B” word!”  For the record, every bad word is a “B” word.  I usually don’t know what word is actually spoken, but I’m sorry to say that anything from the mundane to the horrific is possible. 

Sometimes.  Okay, more than sometimes.  Bad words loosely fly around our house like dust bunnies when I turn on the fan. It could be anything from brat to shut up to what is referred to in semi-polite society as the f-bomb! 

It’s not usually worth a diagnosis.  I just shout back, “Whoever you are, saying whatever you are not supposed to say, stop now!”
I wish I could say I was a better example.  That none of these words ever spill from my mouth or the mouths of any of my older children.  But that would be a lie.
Let me clarify right from the start.  The little ones are not “allowed” to use these words.  Ever. The fact that it gets them into trouble with the teachers and the parents of their friends is only partly the reason we frown on the use of bad words.
However, in the lives of some of my profoundly traumatized children, and those of us who are on the journey with them, these words spill out at times.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I’m not proud.  But so far, it is the only coping mechanism I have found that allows some of us to release some of the pent up screams and frustration we feel. It is especially useful for my kids when physical violence has been the go-to method of releasing that pent up rage. It helps me when I am so crazed that I feel like slamming someone up against the wall, which I must admit is a feeling that has passed through me on far more occasions than I care to count.  (But no, I’ve never actually done it.  I say this to illustrate just how strongly I feel the emotion at that moment.)

I’ve never read this in any professional material, nor have I been trained in the use of curse words as a therapeutic tool, but in my crazy little world, I have found it to be quite effective when used properly.

I know. I know.  Some bright person is going to recognize that this is an oxymoron in civilized society.  Proper use and curse words don’t belong in the same sentence.

Moreover, for my Jesus following friends, I apologize that I haven’t fully fleshed this out from a biblical perspective.  I understand that we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain, nor are we to be quick to anger, and God gives us lots of instructions on the use of words.  And to the extent that any words directly dishonor the Lord’s name, are directed AT a person rather than to them, or are spoken in anger that is unjustified and impatient, I totally agree that they can NEVER be used properly, even by my loose definition.

But there is some gray area in between.  Some area that comprehends the value of words and the nuances that make them so powerful.

In our family, bad words are not made to throw at someone, but to reveal the depth of passion, feeling or attitude needing to be expressed in a way that nothing else does quite as effectively.

So, here are my 5 Basic Rules for the use of curse words and other politically incorrect language:

1.  Curse words and bad words do not belong in your everyday language.  They are a special tool that is useful only when used sparingly, knowingly, and intentionally to make a very specific point. Overuse negates the   effectiveness and power of any word.

2.  Know your audience.  If you choose to use bad words in front of someone who doesn’t follow this kind of philosophy, there will be consequences. Teachers might inadvertently label you the “bad kid.”  Your friends who are more sensitive might be offended.  You might hurt someone’s feelings.  Your friend’s parents might not want you to play with their child.

3.  Cursing is ONLY permitted when there is no other acceptable word or safe action that will be as effective as the curse word will be.  The truth is, cursing sometimes has the same affect on our brains as physical actions.  If the choice is to hall off and punch a guy, or scream at the top of your lungs, “I’m so effin pissed.”  Choose the screaming cuss words. 

4.  Do not use words to call someone names, as in “I know what I’m doing, idiot,” or “You are stupid.”  However, in the right context it is proper to say, “You are acting like an idiot. You have a bitchy attitude right now and it is not helping your case.”

5.  The word must generate the emotion or feeling that the word intends to incite. And by intend, I don’t mean that you are using the word to hurt someone just for the sake of hurting them.

And one more that should be a rule, but isn’t official.

6.  If mamma uses the “f” word, you better run and hide.  She reserves that word for when there is nothing else for her to do.  “She is as mad as she gets.  Her next choice is murder.  Run.  Fast.”

Allow me to illustrate, I have been known to use the “S” word - more commonly known as shut up. I used it long before it was politically incorrect because it might harm the poor fragile psyche of our delicate children who should never be told “no” and who deserve only our best all the time.  I think that is crap!

When I say shut up, I’m not saying, “Sweetie, could you hush?” or, “It is my turn to talk and I need you to listen.”

I’m not thinking, “I need you to be quiet for a few minutes.” 

I mean, “I’m sick of listening to you nag and whine and complain, so keep your comments to yourself and don’t talk to me another second.”

I intend to convey, “You are lying to me and you better be quiet before any more stupid spills out of your mouth.  I will not listen to what you feel you must to say to me at this very moment.  Stop talking and think before you speak.  Until then, I’m going to ignore you and I expect you to stop talking this instant.”

I am thinking, “If you call your brother a loser one more time, I’m going to explode.  When you try to justify it to me, all I can think is that there is NO justification.  So stop talking.  Period.  Nothing you can say will help your case.”

When I say shut up,  I mean just that.  I want to convey all the negative that the word connotes.  If I don’t want to convey that, then I will use another word, like “be quiet please,” or “hush,” or “shhh.” 

Sometimes the word shoots out faster than I can stop myself. Like when I hurt myself, when I step on a lego with bare feet, or I break my humorous while trying to hang a shower curtain, or when I jam my toe into the brick wall by accident, I can almost certainly be caught using the other not so nice “sh*#” word!  It happens so fast and so automatically, I rarely have a chance to shut my mouth! 

Frequently, curse words are an expletive used as an adjective to amplify the meaning of a noun or a pronoun.  Like when I have a deadline and the computer locks up on me for the 50th time and I can’t get the printer to work and I say, “I hate the damn computer.” That’s almost a violation of Rules 3 and 4, but not quite.  I really do hate the damn computer at that moment. And it isn’t harmed by my expression.

In a far more serious conversation with one of my teens who is struggling to put the pieces of their traumatized life together, it might come out through wails and crying like this, “Why is my life so *&?*!* hard.”

Even when directed at me personally, when one of my kids is in a rage that is hard but necessary as a part of healing, I would never reprimand the child for using any bad word in the book – even repeatedly.  In this case, the child knows his audience and is using the words properly.  And we have both found it to be extremely therapeutic. 

I could give many more examples, but suffice it to say that in our unusual family, we use whatever tools that work to relieve the intense pain that we all endure while engaging in life together in sometimes impossible circumstances. 

I am well aware that some people will be shocked by this revelation of my thoughts because I try to know my audience and respect those that I’m talking to.  But others, who have benefitted from my philosophy – especially my kids and some of the ones that I counsel who have no perceived place to vent– are equally thrilled that I have adopted this philosophy.

Consider yourself warned!


  1. I agree. Never taking the Lord's name in vain is first for me. I extremely rarely use the f bomb. But shut up and sh*& have been know to slip from my lips too. My kids are grown and gone now, but they seem to have understood the unwritten rules of using bad words.

  2. I agree with you all the way. In this age that we're living in, curse words are normally flying in and out of households coming from both adults and teens - worse, children. I think that it's good that you chose to talk about this as these thoughts are rare nowadays. God bless you! Thanks for sharing - Ritter


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