I’m driving down the road and my precious baby child is in his car seat in the back. He’s 4-ish. Round-faced. Big eyes. A smile that would melt the coldest heart. Sweet and loving. Angelic.
I say nothing and keep my eyes straight ahead. I don’t flinch. I try hard not to laugh.
Again, a little louder, a little more forcefully from the backseat I hear, Dammit!
I glance into the rear-view mirror and see his earnest little face, a bit anxious, waiting for my response. I say nothing and keep my eyes straight ahead. I don’t flinch. I try hard not to laugh.
The moment passed. The boundary was tested. He never says it again.
To this day, Sonny doesn’t cuss much, at least around me. He’s a gentleman. On the contrary, I love to cuss. I’ve always cussed. And I don’t plan to quit cussing anytime soon.
It’s not ladylike at all. That’s why I like it.
“To use profanity; curse; swear.” That’s the definition of the verb “to cuss.” But cussing is so much more than using bad words. Have you ever heard a string of vulgarities that sang with creativity? Profanity so exquisitely wrought that it thrilled like the most sacred poetry? Language that left the recipient no room for interpretation, no way to misconstrue the intent, no question about the heart of the message all wrapped up with a bit of clever humor to drive the knife in just that much deeper? Then you’ve heard some true cussing.
You can swear “at” someone or you can cuss them “out.” Swearing “at” makes me think of the old children’s song I am rubber and you are glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you. I picture all those swear words just bouncing off someone’s smirking force-field of rhyme. That just makes me madder! But when you cuss someone “out,” you decimate them leaving nothing but a shriveled and dry husk for your words to echo around in. That’s strangely satisfying.
People who cuss a lot, tend to be cussed. (Note: That is pronounced “CUSS-ed” not “cust.”) It’s the quality of being stubborn, hard-headed, obstinate in every way. I think people who are headstrong tend to take up the courage of their convictions more vehemently which causes cussed people to cuss a lot and then cuss some more.
Being cussed brings me to one of my all-time favorite terms — irrepressible cussedness. This term was coined by Allan M. Trout, a columnist for Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper from the 1920s through the 40s. Here’s how he defines it:
… a streak of inherent cussedness keeps most men from acknowledging defeat. The combination of adverse circumstances at last reaches the point where the only thing left to do is grin and bear it. At the moment an overburdened man grins he invariably says something that contains a trace of wisdom and truth.
Think about that just a second. It’s not just being so stubborn that nothing can get you down because of the sheer force of your will, but that you actually have some useful revelation along the way. Irrepressible cussedness.
When you’re a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl with a syrupy Southern accent, people seem to expect you to be innately sweet and proper. They expect you to be somewhat demure and shallow and innocent. Agreeable. Virtuous. Sweet as pie.
They don’t expect you to cuss. They don’t expect you to cuss someone out. They don’t expect you to be cussed. And they don’t expect you to be characterized by irrepressible cussedness.
But I do. I will. And I am.
A few years after Sonny’s little “dammit” experiment, the subject of cussing came up again. Apparently someone at school had used “the ‘a’ word.” The elementary set was properly scandalized. I was appropriately shocked at this little nugget of schoolyard gossip told to me with with a great deal of giggling and whispering.
Then Sonny and I talked a little bit about “bad words.” I maintain that there are no bad words, only words to which a not-so-nice meaning has been assigned. As I told him that day, if people decided that “lollipop” meant “ass” then “lollipop” would be a bad word too. I also told him that as far as things I’d dig my heels in as his mother, cussing was not one of them, that he could say whatever words in conversation with me he wanted to, that if he and his friends wanted to stand in the backyard and recite dirty words all afternoon, I really didn’t care. Cussing is funny, after all! And little boys are going to cuss whether you like it or not, so you might as well not make a big deal out of it.
But, I told him, with cussing comes great responsibility. You have to be able to know when it is appropriate to cuss and, especially, when it is not. Don’t cuss in front of your Granny … or the teacher. You have to understand that words matter, words can hurt, and words have power. Use your word powers for good, not evil. And the most important thing to consider when you cuss is that once you say a thing, it can’t be unsaid.
I said what I believed to be all the proper things that a mother should say to inform, and educate, and enlighten. But here’s my secret hope — that my sweet, angelic baby child, who is now all grown up, never loses the spirit of that mischievous “dammit” moment. And I hope that if provoked or inspired, he is smart enough, and witty enough, and cussed enough to weave together a string of cuss words that will hang in the air like poetry and express the courage of his convictions in a way that will make you blush, that will make you laugh, and that will make you think.