Cursing: An Editorial Style Guide

Profanity. Let’s talk about it.

Some people find cursing funny; others find it crass and offensive. I’m OK with it. In moderation, of course – too much is too much, and there’s no sense in vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity. But there’s nothing else quite like a well-timed bit of vocabulary to set loose a laugh, break the tension of abject frustration, or even relieve physical pain. (Yep, scientific fact. Google it. It’s a primitive thing. Like when you stab a tiger with a stick and it growls. How funny would that be if animals could talk, and instead of ROWRRR, the tiger said, FUCK OFF? Pretty funny. But you should never poke an animal with a stick.)

As with any other element of language, there’s always room for improvement when cursing. Thus, I present this highly subjective guide to optimum profanity usage.

1. Show some ingenuity.

Contrary to what you may have heard, using profanity isn’t necessarily a lazy way of speaking or writing. Using the wrong profanity is lazy. Choose all words with equal care, I say. My mother, who by the way is one of the classiest dames you’ll ever meet, has been known to brandish curse words in entirely unique ways, inventing whole new parts of speech. She always has the right expression for a situation. For example, walking into an unkempt room: “Holy shitstorm, it looks like the ass end of destruction in a typhoid whorehouse around here.” [Exit with flourish.] What does it even mean? I don’t know. But somehow I can picture it. She is a genius. Always be creative and specific.

2. Forget substitutes – they don’t work.

I’m impressed by anyone who thinks fast enough to translate what’s coming out of their mouth in moments of dramatic exclamation. “Cheese and rice, the fudging son-of-a-buckaroo mailman ran over the dadgum cat!” That takes talent. But it’s not as cathartic, and it also sounds goony. I tried to replace shit with shazam for a while. It just made me sound like a wizard.

3. Don’t leave it to the men.

Sure, cursing is unladylike, as are lots of things. Doesn’t mean you can’t do it, girls. The key is to time your cursing properly and choose not to do it when in a situation that calls for utmost ladylikiness. For example, if you’re unhooking your stockings from your garter while singing a French lullaby and baking homemade scones and polishing your silver and writing thank you notes, and you want the whole thing to come off super ladylike, that’s the wrong time to verbalize your opinion that your neighbor is a cocksucking pain in the ass who makes you want to set your own damn fallopian tubes on fire. Or is it? Sometimes that element of dissonance really gets a point across.

4. Respect the next generation.

Learn when to turn it off. It’s a parent’s responsibility to help children hang on to childhood as long as possible, so we need to keep those grownup words to ourselves. Of course, there will be slips. I may have muttered a thing or two under my breath when I accidentally sewed my own hand to a cub scout uniform while trying to adhere a patch. But I covered it up quickly by shouting the Pledge of Allegiance. Keep an arsenal of those tactics at the ready. And when the time comes, sit junior down and teach him how to do it right.

5. Imagine a miniature Jesus sitting on your shoulder.

I believe Jesus may have done some imperfect stuff from time to time, including cursing occasionally; but religious belief is personal, and I would never presume to know Jesus’s business. To be on the safe side, it’s probably best to refrain from cursing in church or at a church-related activity. Also, it’s just tacky. I mean, “Pardon me, motherfuckers, but where do they keep the choir robes?” Nope. Again, just timing and common sense here.

6. Use body part/function words carefully.

Now we’re kind of crossing that fuzzy border between curse words and slang. Anatomical slang is useful for lightening a heavy moment. “I’m very sorry your horse died. Your snowglobes look great in that dress, though.” For real medical conversations, true anatomical terms are better, unless you want your doctor to think you’re not taking things seriously. “Doctor, be straight with me. Did I break my wang?” You don’t want him to start laughing and making wang jokes and then totally forget to give you your prescription for painkillers for your broken wang.

 7. Make copious use of compound cursewords.

These have excellent mix-and-match potential and can be switched around to suit your whim, making them great fun and really useful for keeping your language fresh and unexpected. We’ve all heard dickweed, shitfaced, douchebag, and bitchslap. What about dickbag, bitchfaced, and doucheweed? See, just like that. Mixed it right up.

8. Never forget the classics.

The F-bomb never goes out of style. It can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a participle, a gerund (fuck yes, I just said gerund), and a fantabulous compound. It works beautifully with expressive gestures. You really can’t beat it for versatility.

9. Use your manners.

If you follow none of the other guidelines, observe this one: respect basic rules of civility. If you’re in a setting where you know the people don’t like cursing, don’t do it. Unless you’re in a setting where you know the people don’t like it, but you also know the people hate you and are just pretending to like you, and they think you’re so stupid that you don’t know that they hate you, like you can’t read body language or are completely lacking in social intelligence. In that case, play along nicely and with extreme restraint until it’s time to leave, then casually toss this over your shoulder as you walk out the door:

“Later, bitches.”

And wink.

43 comments

  1. I love this. I try so hard not to curse, and I am a shameful substituter. But this post makes cursing seem so cool…like maybe I want to try it again. Who am I fooling? It makes me want to stop trying to stop. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the guidance, and want to meet your mother. as I write a blog, I find that I am pulling myself back on the actual blasphemy…pausing when I would tend to say, “Jesus!”, or “Goddamn!”– this is personally painful to too many people, I seem to think, but feared that I was leaning too much on “Fuck” and “Crap”, but now I feel much better, and will work on my compound cursing.

    Lily at http://www.sarcasticbastardtour.com yeah.

  3. […] ladies are comedic geniuses with their cursing (clearly, they’ve all read the brilliant treatise on cursing over on the hilarious blog I Miss You …). In fact, my whole family is pretty darn clever when it comes to colorful language. And while I do […]

  4. My friends and family tend to think my cursing falls nto the ingenuity category. My college roomate still quotes a few that I came up with freshman year when I first truly learned what a hangover was. I can only hope my boys will refer to my profanity one day with the admiration you have for your mother’s. Love this post.

  5. Imaginative cursing is a profound blessing in life. There’s no two ways about it. I tend to mix a flair for startling substitution with a slightly unusual approach to basic cursing, allied to a very broad and sometimes old-fashioned vocabulary. If someone really makes me jump, I might, for instance, shriek then yell, “What the fuckitty-buggering-shite do you think you’re doing, you gibbering dipwit?” And, upon receiving said dipwit’s muttered explanation, proceed to let them know that I don’t give a flying buffalo what they thought they were doing. I love hyphens. So useful in a crisis.
    Your mother is a genius.

  6. Holy Shit and Godsmackeroos! Awefuckingsome post.

    I, myself, have a real fondness for JESUSGOD!, which I stole from “The Hotel New Hampshire” by John Irving. That’s some top-notch blasphemy right there. Top-flipping-notch.

  7. When the kids were small, we played a dinner time game with them: Name three people who would NOT appreciate hearing this word: (Choose from any number of the gloriously inappropriate words in this post). With Nana always at the top of their list and the Queen a close second, the kids figured out that while we do curse rather creatively (and somewhat frequently) at home, discretion is of the essence.

  8. BWAHAHAHAHA!! *ahem*
    My mother could curse hard enough to make a sailor blush, and she learned it from her mother. I inherited a mouth that generally needs soap, much to my poor husband’s chagrin. However, since my boys are parrots (asperger’s and autism can be fun!), I have learned to say “God Bless America!” at the appropriate times. This way, they learn patriotism and pain/anger/general shit go hand in hand. 🙂 But seriously, this is a funny post! Thanks for the guffaw!

  9. I love this!!
    By the way, there is no cursing that compares to the creative cursing you’ll find yourself capable of when someone pisses you off when you’re driving. I found myself having to explain to my kid what mommy meant when she called the gentleman in the other car a total fucktard.

  10. “holy flying fuck on a rainbow” is still my personal favorite… I was told I should be more positive, so I thought adding a rainbow to the end would help.

  11. Came over from Fadra’s blog after I saw you were a big winner! (Congratulations, by the way!). This is so funny I just laughed so hard I was afraid I woke the damn kids.

  12. You had me at broken wang. I find myself yelling FUDGECICLES and GOD BLESS AMERICA on the tennis courts quite often. Congrats!

  13. Hilarious! First of all, I love your mother for obviously training you well in the art of cursing: “Holy shitstorm, it looks like the ass end of destruction in a typhoid whorehouse around here.”

    And secondly, I love a woman who can use the term “element of dissonance” in the same paragraph as “cocksucking pain in the ass!”

    Great post!

  14. My mother likes to rhyme her curses. Like “Fuck a duck” and “Damn Sam.” That sort of thing. Makes it kind of cute and funny. Well, at least coming from a 70-year-old woman.

  15. Man, the only thing I love more than the way you think is the way you curse!

    It’s sheer and total perfection.

    Seriously.

    I wish I did more. But now that I went off and married a dude with a 15 year old, I get called to the table on it.

    But I do it in my car. A lot. And at the office. Even more. Because well, sometimes that shit just fucking feels good.

    This is great. You are great. =)

  16. The only time I ever curse is when I’m alone in my car, but then it’s a free-for-all aimed at all the idiot drivers in my town. It’s the only thing that keeps my blood pressure down in the face of such inane mindlessness, so it must be a good thing, no? Thanks for the excellent post!

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