Home » Blog » On Cussing — credit: Charles Coleman Finlay

On Cussing — credit: Charles Coleman Finlay

This is the work of Charles Coleman Finlay — It tickles my Libertarian fancy. Be warned it does contain cussing, if that is something you want to avoid. I don’t agree completely, but it is a point well made.
ON CUSSING AS A POSITIVE MORAL ACTION When I was 4 or 5 years old, I learned the word “shit” somewhere and I used it around my mom, who immediately and vigorously washed my mouth out with soap. Because I was, as they I think they liked to say in those days, a “handful,” I used the same language with her again on anot…her occasion shortly thereafter.  This time, I picked up the bar of soap on my way from the bathroom and handed it to her before I spoke. I think that won me a whipping with the yard stick. My family did not believe in sparing the rod or spoiling the child. Eventually, as a teen, I stopped using “vulgar” words not because of punishment but because of ego. I bought into the idea that vulgar language was only used by people who weren’t smart or educated enough to find alternate words.  And I wanted to prove to people that I was smart.  Boy was I dumb. When I cussed I did it mostly to be outrageous or intentionally offensive. Part of me still believed that nonsense about smart people knowing alternate words. I just didn’t realize it was nonsense until I had children.  My own boys came home from school one day, one of them 6 and the other 4, excited because they had learned some “bad words.” They were quick to tell me that they had learned “bad words.” And without hesitating, I told them there were no bad words, only bad uses.  I asked them what the words were — I forget if it was “shit” or “bitch” — it may have been both.  But they finally, reluctantly told me, and then I promptly defined the words, their plain anglo-saxonish meaning, used them in some sentences, and then gave an example of an okay situation to use the words in and some examples of situations where it would not be okay.  But, I emphasized, words are neutral — it’s only the way we use them that gives them power. They’re smart boys.  They got it.  And we never had a problem with them using language inappropriately as far as I know.  This came up on another facebook post when one of my dear in-laws — you can have an aunt-in-law, right? — who is from a conservative background very similar to the one I grew up in, said ‘but I just gotta ask…why do people like to say “fucking”?’ I confess that “fuck” in all its forms was one of the last word barricades I was willing to cross, entirely as a result of my upbringing.  Early on as a writer, I remember being uneasy every time I used it in a story, even when I was 100% confident it was the right word. Our earliest conditioning is hard to shake. But over the past five to ten years, I’ve started using “fucking” and other similarly transgressive language because I think it’s morally important, even imperative, to limit or even eliminate the power of language to be transgressive in and of itself outside of the human interactive context. Words aren’t good or bad.  It’s how we use them. So, for example, if my intent is to shame or intimidate you, then, as a society, we should find that offensive regardless of the individual words I use. If I use entirely polite and “proper” language, but with the intent to silence you or diminish you in some way, then that ought to be wrong. That should be considered transgressive no matter what. Saying that the night sky, for example, free of light pollution, full of all the stars in Creation, is “fucking awesome” should not be considered transgressive because no harm is intended, nor is any harm accomplished, against individual people. It’s a lazy phrase, but many phrases that don’t include vulgar language are equally lazy — as we can’t all be inventive with words all of the time, we depend of common words and phrases to convey emotional content. “Fucking” is a word that, in this example, suggests excitement and enthusiasm and even approval, and so it effectively conveys that emotional content in a quick and efficient manner. I strongly feel that we have a moral obligation to stop allowing words — or gestures, or images, or art — to be treated as “right” or “wrong” outside of its human context. If a friend tells me that they’ve just sold a new story, or won an award, or accomplished something positive and I say, “That’s fucking great — I’m so happy for you!” then the human context makes the use of the word okay. However, if someone does something that upsets me — they tell me something I don’t want to hear, or they disagree with me — and I say to them in anger, “Shut up, you fucking moron!” then the human context puts me at fault. To make the two instances of speech equivalent because they use the same adjective — “fucking” — is to give too much power to the word, which should be neutral, and shifts the focus away from the human/human interaction which is where all morality originates and abides. So fuck it. I’m going to cuss. Because it’s the right thing to do.
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Jay Wilburn
Jay Wilburn has a Masters Degree in Education that goes mostly unused since he quit teaching to write about zombies. Jay writes horror because he tends to find the light by facing down the darkness. He finds the journey through life easier by having you join him. Jay is the author of 2 series: The Dead Song Legend and The Great Interruption. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. You can also find Jay's work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and Dark Moon Digest. Each year Jay has the pleasure of featuring many great authors in the genre through the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours on his website.

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