Do you swear, curse, cuss, hurl oaths at the gods, and generally let fly any and all forms of blasphemy, execration, and profanity? When the spirits move me, I do. Let me make clear from the start, I was not raised this way. I was brought up in a respectful household where swearing was strictly verboten. Not only was it base and mean, it was a sin, which even as a child I understood held vast cosmodemonic implications if I was caught verbalizing a “bad word.” But I was curious. Faced with a forbidding grammatical Berlin Wall, I wanted to know what lay on the other side. So, secretly, I became something of a connoisseur of cussing.
By the time I was old enough to spend most of my day out of earshot of my parents, I was an avid surveyor of the irreverent and profane. I used the words, too, but judiciously. By high school, things got a little less judicious. And by college, all bets were off. I was a hopeless blasphemer. I’m not particularly proud of this, but it’s the way I am. If I had to estimate—and if Judgment Day ever gets here, I may have to—I’d say that six times out of 10 I employ profanity for comic effect. But those other four times the source is pure, bilious, unquenchable frustration at the state of things. It’s partly why I became a journalist. Journalists use a lot of words, so it was a natural calling, but they also tend be a pretty profane tribe. Plus, there’s something strangely awe-inspiring and, let’s be honest, a little funny about seeing a grown human fulminate with such explicit force that they seem to be coming apart at the seams.
In truth, swearing can be useful. It is one of the safest ways we have of grappling with reality, no matter how harsh or temporarily inconvenient. And is it fun? @#$% yeah! But there is a downside: Use the words gratuitously and they lose their power—their ability to, in a sense, heal. As we were putting this issue to bed, I noticed that we had more strong language than usual (for us, at least) salted throughout the magazine, particularly in S.D. Liddick’s powerful story on Middletown native and Iraq War veteran Josh Back and his battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After careful consideration, I decided to leave the words in (well, most of them), for the simple reason that the pathos—the truth—would be diluted. To cut them for the sake of propriety would do a disservice to the writing and to the reader.
If you disagree, let us know. As for me, I’m trying hard to edit myself more. I’ve got a 3-year-old daughter, after all, and it just doesn’t do to hear her open her mouth and suddenly repeat, with a certain twinkle in her eye, “God damn!” I’ve got my work cut out for me.