Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bad Language - A Personal History.

Throughout my childhood, my mother never used bad language. In fact, she'd admonish people who had the nerve to say anything than worse than "damn" or "hell" around my sister or me -- even as I got old enough to handle it, hear it, even say it. In fact, no one we knew (the adults, anyway) had a filthy mouth. After all, we were closely monitored kids with MTV removed from the remote control (my grandma said it was "trash"), R-rated movies removed from our wish lists and friendships supervised with a careful eye.

Later, as I became a young adult, I was exposed to more bad language -- but I still wasn't much of a potty mouth myself. In fact, I was sometimes made fun of for being a goody-two-shoe, but I wore the label proudly. It was part of being Denise. I came to high school, and eventually college, as a late bloomer, determined to hold onto my virtue and not snort lines alongside strangers or miss class the next day. I'm not sure how or when those not-so-nice words crept into my vocabulary. But they did, little by little.

Here's a short list of experiences that stand out in my mind.

In the third grade I had my first real introduction to bad language -- though I wasn't the one who used it. I was brought to my teacher's desk along with a couple of other female students. We were informed that one of us had used a racial term on the school field trip -- but our superiors weren't sure which of us it was. At the time, I was a Catholic schoolgirl, and when the teacher repeated the word to me, I told her with honesty that I didn't know the word, and that I'd never heard my parents say it. She didn't believe me. I was mystified.

I had a babysitting job at age 16. At that point, I wasn't using bad language but I was listening to it -- I've always had a soft spot for rock n' roll. I remember popping in a Cake CD and playing a song with some choice words, only to be called out by the 7-year-old. I quickly turned off the CD -- who knew kids were so perceptive? -- but it was too late. I didn't babysit for that family very often after that.

My first job after graduate school was at a tiny book publisher that dealt primarily with military fiction and reference. My boss, an old dude around 70, let the F-bomb fly one afternoon because he was angry. I blinked in surprise, but I didn't question it.

One day, when I was around 27 or so and sobbing on the phone to my mother over a particularly brutal break-up, I let a word slip out that she had never heard me say. She gasped in shock, but she knew I was upset. Thus, she didn't say too much about it. But I still felt guilty.

Two and a half years ago, I started working at Mount Pleasant Magazine and Brian told me I had a dirty mouth. I dismissed his comment; I was stressed out and needed to vent.

I guess the point is that even now, at the age of 30+ years old, I still get scolded for using bad words. It's not that I don't know other words to use; in fact, I think of myself as having a decent vocabulary. I'm not exactly certain how I picked up the habit of uttering anything other than the Biblical "damn" or "hell" from my childhood years. Maybe it was all that Cake. And while it's true that a lot of people find bad language to be offensive, it's probably my worst habit. I mean, I don't drink that much (anymore); I don't have cigarettes in my handbag; I don't like porn and I don't snort lines.

Everyone has a vice, dammit.

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