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What The F*#%?

by Stephen Kelly

Sometimes I feel I use the word “fuck” too much. It seems as if almost every sentence I utter is interjected with the word “fuck”, and usually not in a sexual context, as in “I’d like to be a fly on the wall when those two fuck”. In fact, it usually has nothing to do with sex at all. Rather, it’s always like “Look at this fucking idiot” or “I couldn’t give a fuck about that” or “The fucking tuna melt in that fucking restaurant is fucking awesome!”

Most times it stands alone, as in “Fuck off” or Fuck that” and sometimes it’s used to back up another expletive, as in “That fucking jerkoff”. Sometimes it’s used in exasperation, like when you’ve seen something that shocks you, as in “Fuuuccckk”. And, for optimal emphasis, it’s can be used by itself many times over in the same sentence, as in Dennis Hopper’s classic “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” from Blue Velvet.

Let’s analyze that phrase. You’ve got five words, and three of them involve the word fuck. Perfect. You can see how much thought I've put into this. In any event, it now seems impossible for me to not use the word in any given number of fucking sentences. Anyway, you get the point. I’m a big fan of the word “fuck”. I’m not offended by the word, and I don’t get offended when others use it around me.

I don’t know when this started, but it has definitely progressed over time. As a kid I never cursed. In fact, back then I didn’t indulge in a lot of the bad habits I now flaunt as an adult. To me hard core cursing, like tattoos and motorcycles, was something that only criminals and/or members of biker gangs took part in. So, not wanting to be associated with that kind of ilk, I went the other direction and embraced the true Catholic boy inside. Cursing was something altar boys just did not do.

So while my far more ebullient brother was well on his way to becoming the hard-core cussin’ Philadelphian he is today, I was using words “shoot” and “darn” in place of the obvious, far raunchier substitutes.

Growing up my parents cursed, employing a lot of the standards, words like shit, hell, bastard and damn. We heard “Goddamm it” a lot. But I never heard my parents use the F word, which is perhaps a reflection of a generation that didn’t use the word as freely as we do now. But I’m sure they used that word. My dad was an Irish cop, for God’s sake. I’m sure when he was hanging around the patrol room he would use the word as freely and with the same reckless abandon as I do today. But at home I never heard it used and I’m guessing they withheld that one from their vernacular when around the kids. We were, after all, a Catholic household.

This Catholic upbringing told me that cursing was something God frowned upon (if not my parents, who, as you’ve learned, had their own set of expletives deleted). The Bible never mentioned anything about God or Jesus cursing, although I’m sure Jesus let a few fly when he smote the moneychangers from the temple. Jesus said in the Bible that cursing is a sign of evil in a man’s heart. If any one of the almighty triumvirate of God, Jesus and The Holy Spirit was against it, that’s all I needed to hear. I knew a sin of that magnitude had to be punishable by fiery damnation, as if there’s any other. And I didn’t want any part of that.

So I have to pause and reflect when I utter when one my favorite phrases: “Jesus Fucking Christ”. Again with the Catholic thing, but I knew there had to be something sinful about using the dirtiest of words so closely with the hallowed name of Our Lord and Savior. But there it is, smack in the middle, rubbing shoulders with the words Jesus and Christ. Jesus Fucking Christ. Although I now consider myself a recovering Catholic, I still harbor a strong feeling that only Satan could be responsible for such an awful utterance.

So how did this start? At what point did I go from altar boy to stevedore? Maybe it was college when I surrendered to a more liberal (read: not Catholic) way of thinking. Going away to college took me out of my Irish/Italian/Catholic Philly neighborhood comfort zone and exposed me to people of all walks of life, from all parts of the country and the world. Believe me, some of those guys from the coal mining sections of Pennsylvania really knew how to light up a sentence.

At the same time I was playing college ice hockey and I’m sure that had something to do with it. Hockey players are famous for colorful, inventive cursing. I had a college teammate who I’m pretty sure invented most of the curse words we use today. This guy made cursing an art form. Of course, during the summer he worked on the docks in Chester, PA, a hard scrabble, working-class community just south of Philly.

Obviously a product of his environment, he could rip you to shreds with a simple look and nicely turned phrase that would always include some intensely obscene word. In the unfortunate event you incurred his wrath, he would attack with the savage relentlessness of a pit bull, pretty much making you his bitch for however long he wanted.

So being around world-class trash talkers meant you had to learn to defend yourself, how to think quick on your feet and return in kind. So for me, college hockey was a training ground where I developed and finely honed the gutter mouth I use so freely today. Which could explain while I feel more comfortable in the company of people who use the word with the same liberal abandon as myself.

Perhaps analyzing or getting to the root of my love of cursing is a futile pursuit. Maybe it’s best just to admit it’s there and make no apologies. I curse and I like it. It’s a way of expressing myself with more emphasize, to add color to my vocabulary. Is that so wrong?

I like to think that I follow in the footsteps of people throughout the ages who have used salty language as form of expression, as something that has come to represent a rich, colorful lifestyle. I’m guessing Steinbeck and Hemingway were prone to graphic language, particularly after a hard night of hitting the bottle. I’m also sure someone like John Huston knew how to dress you down. But, then again, these three men were also cut from a similar two-fisted hard livin’, hard drinkin’ kind of cloth.

Then again, our macho society dictates that our models of masculinity, icons like John Wayne, Wyatt Earp or General George Patton, probably cursed a lot. It just seems to go with the territory. Still, it’s funny the picture that paints, as if only manly-men knew how to turn a filthy phrase. That may or may not be true, but somehow I don’t see Einstein running around the lab going “OK, which one of you fucking assholes took my godamn slide ruler?”

I’ll bet Nixon cussed like a sailor. I’ll bet Katherine Hepburn cussed like a sailor. I’ll bet Babe Ruth had a gutter mouth that could make plants wilt. Jack Nicholson. Teddy Roosevelt. General Douglas MacArthur. Russell Crowe. Keith Richards. Gutter mouths all.

Which puts me in pretty good company.