The Culture of Cursing

By Elizabeth Ballew

The Harbinger (Prairie Village, Kansas)

Up until sixth grade, I thought the f-bomb was “freakin.” In eighth grade, I would rant to my Catholic school friends about how much I despised cursing (cringe). My first week as a freshman I heard so much cursing that I was determined to start a swear jar program where all contributions were given to charity (double cringe). Could you guess that I am the oldest child in an incredibly sheltered family?

Well that sure changed freshman year. Thanks to Twitter and the fact that the school hallway swarmed with upperclassmen who swear like sailors, I was exposed to some of the most colorful language I have ever heard. Soon enough I started cursing in my head. That evolved into cursing aloud here and there. Now I’m just another desensitized upperclassmen who doesn’t blink an eye at curse words. The overuse of curse words in society and in the media led these bad words to lose their shock value because they have been normalized.

Elementary school me was so anti-cursing. In fourth grade I felt like such a, dare I say, badbutt (not badass because cursing was never an option) for watching the Sandlot because it featured words like damn and hell. Words can’t describe how rebellious I felt reading theSisterhood of the Traveling Pants in fifth grade because of words like s— and a–. Nothing says rebellion like reading books about friendship! Now as a junior in high school, I’m not exactly feeling as rebellious watching Shameless and listening to Kanye on repeat.

Today, saying fricken’ might get you more stares than #$%!*&. From TV, movies, music and especially social media, “bad” words are unavoidably everywhere. Even Taylor Swift, the most wholesome singer, is rumored to feature some explicit lyrics on her new album. Try to spend five minutes on any social media platform without running into curse words. Impossible. Even on Pinterest, the captions on pins of dream wardrobe outfits are described as “so f***ing cute!”. And everyone just scrolls through. The internet has allowed for swearing in public to happen everywhere. Consequently making these words lose their value.

While reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest aloud in my junior English class, the teacher read a paragraph that featured some foul language. After she finished reading, she looked up and said “I really did say that.” I looked back and reread the paragraph to realize I didn’t even notice she said those things. Even hearing authoritative figures cursing doesn’t come as a shock. Dr. McKinney could hop on the announcements and curse as much as Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street and he may get a few furrowed eyebrows, but I can’t say there would be any complaining students.

If even the principal cussing would just result in a shrug, you have to be insanely creative to come up with a swear that will make people do a double take. A head-turning swear is no longer just a word, but a creative phrase that puts a humorous image in your brain. To shock people with swearing, you must be an expert in vulgar imagery and string together quite an assortment of cuss words.

In all fairness, I will say that the c-word (and I don’t mean crap, freshmen) hasn’t lost its shock factor. Because of its misogynistic context, the c-word has come to a point where it either needs to be used— and a lot — to break the shock value, or it needs to be lost.

I started cursing because it’s proven to relieve stress, but as I began to overuse it, it lost the stress-relieving effects. At the beginning of junior year, I was going to make it my goal to curse less. But as the year rolls on, profanity has slyly crept its way back into my vocab. See a cop on mission? Oh f—. Forget I had a Spanish vocab quiz? Oh s—. Check my bank account? Oh —- me. Misspell the main character’s name in my essay? Elizabeth, you dumb—. Cussing is my natural reaction to everything, and while it may not be ladylike, I don’t think anyone from my generation really cares. Sorry to the fossils who do!

Of course, context is everything. Cursing hasn’t devolved to the point where it’s fine for preschoolers to do it and for people in job interviews to throw around the f-bomb. However, in social situations, swearing is no longer the faux pas it was 50 years ago. It doesn’t make you cool and badass— it just makes you an average teenager.   My generation has cried f— too many times now, and the attention grabbing effect it once had is gone.

Photo Credit: mønsterdestrøyer

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