19 September 2005


(WARNING: Contains every word in the book. Feel free to advise me of any I forgot.)

People don’t cuss properly in The South.

Especially women. Women in The South hardly seem to cuss at all, as a matter of fact, and most of them look at me funny when I do.

Which is why I can’t cuss at the office (I work in a hospital, and they sorta frown on that anyway). The husband, on the other hand, gets to swear like a sailor all day. Which isn’t even remotely fair, since most of the guys he works with are pigs and they know some really good ones – in other words, I’m missing out. What it all boils down to is that I have no place to vent my potty-mouth - except here, I guess, which is why I’m just going to let it all out right now and hopefully get it over with.

Yeah, so, on to other places I can’t cuss.

Having cured myself of road rage (with music and NPR) I don’t cuss when I’m driving much anymore either. I mean, yeah, there’s the occasional jackass trucker who needs me to lay on the horn and give him the finger and, of course, you can’t avoid the inevitable dumb fuck with a phone glued to his/her ear who needs to be told where to shove the goddamn thing. But generally speaking, I just concentrate on not hitting the person in front of me and work on whatever I’m writing. (In my head, of course. I always have both hands on the wheel and I always signal and check my damn blind spot before I change lanes. Sheesh!)

So: I can’t cuss at work, I can’t cuss in the car and the husband won’t let me cuss at home. He has a valid argument there – he doesn’t want the three year old to pick anything up. Which she would. Which wouldn’t actually bother me. I mean, she’s going to pick it up anyway, she might as well learn it from me, yeah? And I don’t think the husband has a problem with her picking it up, necessarily. The problem is that she would learn the words and then it would take her some time – and trial and error – to learn how and when to use them properly.

Which brings us to the real problem about cussing in The South: They have different rules. The Rules, as I understand them, go something like this:

First of all, we don’t call ‘em cuss words. We call them ‘swear words’, which is how they will be referred to henceforth.

Where I come from, there are three groups - three gradations of badness - if you will. The first group, Group 1, are the really bad ones. These are the ones you won’t say in front of your mother even on pain of death. There’s really just the two of them – you know which ones they are. I don’t even have to tell you, do I? Except that I’m going to.

Ready? Here they are: ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’. I won’t say either one in front of my mother – not even if you torture me. Actually, since the shock value of ‘fuck’ is sort of wearing off, I did say that in front of my mother once or twice – and then she said it in front of me and I about had a heart attack. So I stopped saying it in front of her. And, of course, you couldn’t get me to say ‘cunt’ in front of my mother for anything at all. I’m blushing even thinking about it. Yikes!

Although none of them are quite on the level of ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, I also wouldn’t use any sort of slang for ‘penis’ in front of my mother. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t say ‘penis’ in front of my mother, either. And as for ‘dick’ and ‘cock’ and all the others like them, forget it. I probably wouldn’t think those in front of my mother. Not without blushing.

That brings us to Group 2: the swear words that are OK in front of my mother, but only because I’m a grown-up now. These are words like ‘shit’, ‘damn’, ‘ass’, ‘goddamn’, ‘hell’, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘crap’, etc. These are all perfectly OK in front of my mother. In fact, she uses them in front of me and neither one of us comes anywhere close to blushing. I don’t even think we notice they’re being used. As a matter of fact, ‘Goddamn’ was probably my maternal grandfather’s favorite word. I can still hear him say it. He was from Maine and had a really thick Maine accent, so phonetically, it came out something like this: [GWAWD-dam] and was usually used as an adjective (‘the goddamn thing’) rather than an expletive (as in, ‘Goddamn! I just stubbed my toe!’).

The last group, Group 3, are the words that even kids over a certain age can use in front of grown-ups. These would be innocuous expressions like ‘Jeez’ (instead of Jesus Christ), ‘shoot’ (instead of shit), ‘darn’ or – and no one says this where I come from – ‘dang’ (instead of damn). Now, I don’t want my three year old saying any of these things yet, but I think by the time she’s eight or ten, it’ll be OK (with me, I ain’t speaking for the husband on this one).

Now, I did catch myself telling her not to say ‘stupid’ the other day and thought I had another group of swear words to sort through. But then I realized that ‘stupid’ is different. ‘Stupid’ isn’t a swear word at all – it just isn’t nice. It’s a mean thing to call someone or something. It’s like ‘fat’ – it could hurt someone’s feelings. But that doesn’t make it a swear word.

So – those are the three groups: The couple you can’t say in front of mom; The bunch you can, but only if you’re a grown-up; and The bunch you can say when you’re a kid, as long as you’re authorized by a parent to do so. Makes sense, right? Well, it would... except that in The South, naturally, it doesn’t.

From what I can gather, in The South there are just two groups – and Group 1 contains pretty much everything.

For example, anything to do with religion is totally off limits. Honestly, before I was transported south of the M-D, I wouldn’t even have considered them swear words at all. BUT, if you use any of these here, you are instantly labeled a heathen and, if you continue to use them, you’ll probably get called (gasp!) a pagan behind your back. Hence, everything religion-related gets shuttled off to Group 1 faster than you can say ‘Christ on a raft’. So there goes ‘goddamn’ and ‘Jesus Christ’, as well as ‘damn’ and ‘hell’. (Although apparently, preachers in the middle of a sermon and people who just ‘talking religion’ in general are exempted from this rule for the duration of the service or conversation.)

By association, anything that is ultimately derived from any of the religion-related terms is also included in Group 1. So much for ‘heck’, ‘Jeez’, and ‘gosh’. I guess this is where we lose ‘damn’, too – and its lesser cousins ‘dang’, ‘darn’ and ‘drat’, which ostensibly, just aren’t sufficiently different from their progenitor. The theory, I assume, is that God knows what you really meant and you ain’t foolin’ him with the watered-down versions.

So far, so good. I can cope with this – it’s not hard to remember: just don’t mention anything religious and you’re fine.

Where it starts to get sticky – for me – is that most of the other words in my Group 2 are also in Group 1 in The South. So now we’ve lost ‘shit’, ‘ass’ and ‘crap’. ‘Shit’ and ‘ass’, I can understand. Those are still on the upper end of the spectrum as far as badness goes. But ‘crap’?? C’mon. It’s just ... crap!!

That leaves me with basically nothing to say and no where to say it. Which is a bitch. (Fuck!! Can’t say that one either!!)


Queen K said...

Well SHIT girl - that's just fucking funny!!!

I'm very sorry - you really ought to move to Vermont - it's not quite as cold as a witch's tit right now, but I'm betting it'll get that way soon...

Bethanie said...

If only... believe me, I'd trade the 80 degrees we're expecting tomorrow (on November fucking 2nd) for a witch's tit in brass brassiere ANYTIME.