Dirty Words: Power in the Potty Mouth

Are dirty words evil?

I have a potty mouth. I curse like a sailor – or a truck driver. I use four-letter words in the car when trying to navigate these mean New Jersey highways. I have respect for George Carlin‘s “Seven Dirty Words.”

Reading Skinny Bitch in 2008 led me to becoming an ethical vegan. The writing was right up my alley. In 2013, the book’s co-author, Rory Freedman, made a conscious choice to stop swearing in her work as her journey took her to a different place. At the time, I don’t think I fully understood where she was coming from. I’m starting to get it.

There are some who will argue that profanity has no place in intelligent discussion; in fact, profanity makes its user look less intelligent. I don’t agree with this argument. Some of the most intelligent people I know or know of sprinkle their smart, witty thoughts with swear words.

However, even I will admit that there can be limits to just how many curses you can spill without it affecting your message. Of late, I’ve become very conscious of just how many f-words, s-words, b-words and a-words I can string into a conversation with a friend. I wince inside when that number reaches new heights. I am very aware of how high that number is in comparison with those I’m speaking to.

In a 2004 NPR interview, while discussing the “Seven Dirty Words,” Carlin had this to say:

These words have no power. We give them this power by refusing to be free and easy with them. We give them great power over us. They really, in themselves, have no power. It’s the thrust of the sentence that makes them either good or bad.

The man has a point (and really, didn’t he always?). I have been free and easy with many so-called dirty words for many years. Perhaps the problem isn’t that I’m using them freely, but that I’m not using them wisely. There is strength in language – I know this as a writer. When choosing those words carefully, we have the chance to make an impact.

I intend to be more mindful with my language. There are only so many f-bombs one can drop before they fade into the static background, losing their impact, signifying nothing.

(While writing this piece, I cursed silently at the person outside honking their horn repeatedly, obnoxiously, and imposing on my evening. As with anything worth doing, this is going to be a process.)


“Speak No Evil” Photo: Marina Taskovic

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