Tag Archives: swearing

Say Hello To Mr. Johnson

1 Feb

When I lived in Oak Park, my next-door neighbor was an Armenian woman, about my age, who grew up in the Soviet Union. While she had an M. D. and a Ph.D., was working on curing breast cancer and could speak at least three languages, there was one she desperately wanted to learn. She felt her lack hindered her ability to truly interact with her colleagues.

My friend wanted to learn the language of American vulgarity. I don’t discriminate in verbal acquisition, so my vocabulary includes an extensive collection of American swear words. And I know how to use them.

So on our nightly walks, I would instruct her in how to swear in American English.  We spent at least two sessions discussing the various terms for copulation. I ranked them in increasing order of severity from “fooling around” up to the “F” word. She was astounded at how versatile that word could be, but couldn’t really master its use. Still she was eager to try her newly acquired skills. At a meeting of her research team, presented with a problem that confounded her, she said, “What fuck is this?!”

With the “F” word behind us, she turned her interest to vulgar synonyms for “penis.” Again, she was amazed at the variety of monikers Americans have devised for the male appendage. I don’t think she believed me when I mentioned that many men actually have a pet name for their penis, “just like women have a term for their breasts.” The look on her face told me that Soviet women probably don’t have terms of endearment for their “girls.”

I was reminded of my friend while taking care of my dad recently. Cancer treatment doesn’t just make you tired. It doesn’t just make you nauseous. In my dad’s case, there is a lot of sleeplessness. He also has a feeding tube installed in his small intestine. All night, the adult version of formula is pumped into his body. So, along with the sleeplessness, he has toileting issues.

It was in the course of dealing with one of these issues that I came face-to-face, as it were, with my dad’s . . .um . . .Johnson. I knew what came next. I dreaded what came next. Out of respect for my dad’s ability to retain his dignity in a terrible situation, I got over myself and did what needed to be done.

Dad and I both survived the incident and others as well, but it struck me that we had crossed a significant invisible barrier. In a moment, it became appropriate to do something that had been completely inappropriate a heartbeat prior.

When we were kids, my dad would dress in his swim trunks and get in the shower with my sister and me. With the water beating down on us, he would rock back and forth making storm noises. Now, I’m grabbing a handful of cleansing wipes and helping dad do what he can’t do for himself.

Ironically, it’s now ok for me to see dad’s unit, but no longer appropriate for me to see my son’s. When my son was an infant, I didn’t just see the teeny, weenie peenie, but was its primary care giver. The doctor assured me that post-circumcision care was simple. She lied. I think she did it on purpose. Prior to amending my son’s constitution, she told me “circumcision is completely unnecessary. We used to think the procedure didn’t hurt them, but now we believe that isn’t true.” She then gave me the pursed-lip “I dare you to be a bad mother” look. I gave her the “it’s none of your damn business” look and said, “My husband is Jewish.”

My intimate relationship with my son’s winky continued. He refused to use the toilet any way but the way his father did: standing up. This meant that the only time he did not pee in a diaper was at Brookfield Zoo, where there is a pint-sized urinal in the women’s restroom. At nearly four years old, he finally stood tall enough to (sort of) hit the mark in the potty. He still is only sort of making the mark, but I think he does it so he doesn’t have to share a bathroom with his sister.

The day it became inappropriate for me to see my son’s penis is burned into my mind. I was bringing laundry to his room, just as I had done for years. I seldom knocked. On the day that shall live in infamy, I opened the door and found my son exercising his right to the pursuit of happiness. We looked at each other in horror. I said, “AHHHHHH!!!!” He said, “AHHHHHHHHH!!!! I slammed the door. Now, I knock and he locks.

I don’t think I’ll ever completely recover from seeing my baby boy behaving in a very un-babyish manner. That kind of thing has a way of searing the corneas. But, I’m behaving like an adult when it comes to caring for dad. He needs it and I’m glad to do it.


Potty Mouth

20 Dec

I really like the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” It’s a sweet movie starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell that follows the love stories of four (more?) couples. Some time ago, I suggested it as a good family movie to watch with my adult sibs, my mom and dad and my grandmother. Everyone was on board for watching the movie. It started and, within two minutes, my mother was so offended she had her arms crossed over her chest and her lips firmly set in a pinched, hard line.

I forgot that the first five minutes of dialogue consist of one word, the “F” word, repeated many times, in many variations, as Hugh Grant’s character realizes he’s overslept and is about to be very late for a friend’s wedding. I identified with the opening scene, finding it very real. My mom found it really distressing and immediately labeled the film, “Dirty.” I recall she glowered at me. I knew I was f . . .acing an angry mother.

My mother didn’t swear much. I swear a lot. Actually, I swear a lot less than I used to. Working in a preschool will do that to you. I have to admit to thinking it’s pretty funny when a four-year-old looks in her backpack and says, “Sh-t!” Her companion then says, “What’s wrong?” “I left my indoor shoes at home,” she says. But, being the roll model that I am, I have always said, “We don’t say those words in school. Can you think of a better word to use when you’re frustrated?”

My problem is that I can’t think of a better word to use when I’m frustrated. The “S” word is perfect for those times when you just want to kick yourself in the behind for doing something stupid, like forgetting your indoor shoes. It’s a short word, so you get it over and move on quickly. It has an opening sound that you can draw out as long as you want and then a completely satisfying final consonant. Indeed, a very useful word.

As much as she hated swearing, my mother wasn’t above using it herself. She had some creative constructions, but my clearest memory of her swearing was over a sewing project. She was making a dress for either my sister or me. There was a particularly difficult seam that was refusing to cooperate. She sewed it and tore it out at least three times. Finally, she got it right, only to discover she had sewn the garment to her own. What did she say? She said, “Shit!”

I would have said the “F” word. While I find the “S” word quite useful, the “F” word is my go-to word for extreme frustration and/or pain. Accidentally poking myself with a pin will get the “S” word out of me. Sewing something to my own clothing by mistake after trying to get the darn thing right for an hour? That’s going to get the “F” word out of me every time.

I’m also not likely to say “darn.” I use the “D” word, usually when referring to our cat, Oliver. Oliver is the worst cat who ever lived. Oliver wants only canned food and he wants it three times each day. If he does not get his canned food when he wants it, he breaks something. He has broken three teapots, numerous plates and bowls and all but two out of 12 coffee mugs. I call him, “the damn cat.”

I used to call him “the god-damned cat.” I stopped using “god damn” some time ago, realizing it could be offensive to some of my more religious friends who frown upon taking God’s name in vain. But, I’ve been rethinking my line of reasoning. I seem to recall learning that no one knows God’s name. If no one knows his name, then how can one take his name in vain? I’m not buying that God’s name is “God.” That’s like saying my dog’s name is “Dog.” If I found out that God’s name was “Fred,” then I could say “the Fred-damned cat” and my friends who worship Fred would be quite right in being offended.

My father believes that he knows God’s name. He told me, “It’s Harold.” “Harold?” I said. “Yes, you know, ‘Harold be thy name’.” “It’s ‘hallowed’, Dad,” I said. He was not deterred. Nothing, I have found, can keep a dad from making a Dad Joke. Having failed with Hallowed Harold, my dad said, “His middle name is ‘Andy’.” Almost afraid to ask, I said, “How’s that, Dad?” My dad began singing, “And he walks with me . . .”

Naturally, my children have used swear words and it is invariably blamed on me. My husband claims not to swear. I know he does, but I do it more, so he hides behind my foul mouth. The impact of my potty mouth was brought home to me in a stop at McDonald’s. It was summer. I was in the drive thru, unhappily waiting for a Happy Meal. My then four-year-old son had gotten wise to my “McDonald’s is closed” ploy. The food was not ready, so I was told to pull ahead and wait. First, however, I let the little old lady cross in front of my car to her own. The guy in the car behind me laid on his horn. I, ever mature as we know, shouted out my window, “What should I do, run her over?” He, even more mature than I, said, “Yeah!” to which I said, “Oh, go f— yourself.” From the back seat, my son added, “Yeah, you go f— your goat.” How he knew the man had a goat, I will never know.

Since then, I have tried to curb my evil ways, but tell my children that certain words are “adult” words and that, when they are adults, they can choose to use them. My son, almost an adult now, practices on an hourly basis, throwing in some really disgusting phrases that, while they contain no profanity, are, well, really disgusting. I have learned to ignore him.

My daughter brought me up short the other day when she asked, “Mommy, are you a pussy?” I choked back my immediate response and said, “Oh, dear, you must never use that word” and explained why. The first thing that came to my mind, though, was, “Hell, no! Mommy is hard core!”

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