One of the things I most admire about my 11-year-old son is his vocabulary. He speaks beautifully, using big words correctly. Expressing himself fully and well is not a challenge, and the kid loves, loves, loves to talk.
One of the things that most frustrates my kid about me is my vocabulary, which oftentimes slips to the salty side.
For me, cursing is a lot like smoking cigarettes: a bad habit, I know, but one that feels oh, so good. There are situations that scream out for a well-enunciated F-bomb or a “son of a bitch” rolling off the tongue.
Once, years ago, when I arrived at Will’s daycare to pick him up, his teacher pulled me aside to tell me about an “incident” earlier that day.
“Will used a bad word,” she said. “One of his friends got in his way and he said, ‘move, asshole.’”
I was horrified.
“Where would he get that from?” I said.
“Well, he said that’s what you say when someone gets in your way while you’re driving,” the teacher said. “He didn’t realize it was a bad word.”
It was then that I realized I had a problem.
But old habits — especially bad ones, I suppose — are hard to break.
My kid recently took me to task for swearing within hearing distance of him and his friend.
Never mind that I had just burned my hand on a hot pot. My kid was horrified that I let loose with several “damn-it-alls” as I ran my burned hand under cold water.
But as much as I cuss in my casual-speak, I don’t make a habit of it in my writing. I learned early on that some words just aren’t appropriate for publication.
As a cops reporter, I came across a truly amazing report about an indecent exposure incident.
A woman was driving on I-96 when the beeping of a horn from the truck next to her made her glance over.
The man driving the truck was masturbating as he drove.
The woman noted that the truck was a work vehicle, and she slowed to get its plate number. Then, she called the police.
It didn’t take much sleuthing to track down the driver, who turned himself into police for questioning.
His explanation was a simple — if unbelievable — one:
The man’s hands were feeling chapped. He applied some moisturizing lotion to his hands, squeezed out too much, and unzipped his pants to apply the excess to his penis.
Keep in mind that the man was driving a work truck while this was going on.
Then, as he was wiping the excess lotion onto his penis, he decided he needed something from his wallet. So he arched his back and raised up his bottom to reach his back pocket. That’s when he said he accidentally hit the horn and the woman looked over to see him putting lotion on his penis.
I still wonder how the dude steered the truck with one hand on his penis and the other in his back pocket.
I wrote a funny piece for the police blotter, but my editor rewrote it to take out all the “penis” words.
“This is a family newspaper,” he told me as he replaced all the penis references with “crotch.”
The effect was nowhere near as funny (or accurate) as my original, but it ran as edited.
Nearly 20 years later, after I lost my job as a newspaper editor, I felt intense creative freedom in my new blogging life. I used “tits” and “ass” in a piece about breasts; I quoted a police officer using the F-word in a piece about a particularly gruesome case in which a 4-year-old boy was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend; I wrote about an anti-domestic violence game from Denmark called “Hit the Bitch.” And I got sweet revenge for the replacement of “penis” in a piece about Viagra.
But I find myself drawing the line: I don’t use inappropriate language in headlines, and I use them in my writing only if necessary to move the story along.
For as liberally as I sprinkle my spoken language with curse words, I am far more like my son when I write.
So, I constantly struggle with my cursaholism.
Last night, a car raced out of an alley as I drove past with my son in the passenger seat.
I let loose with a loud “son of a bitch.”
My son put his hand on my arm.
“It’s Christmas, Mom,” he said. “Couldn’t you just say, ‘son of a nutcracker’?”