If you are a regular reader of my blog (God bless you, as we say in Nigeria) you may have noticed I rarely use swear (or curse) words. Some bloggers pepper their writing with profanity to appear hip and funny or because it suits their subject matter. Mostly it works rather well. An expertly placed expletive is amusing, particularly if the reader is not expecting it.
However, as a frigid, dried-up old vagina (according to a former student) I don’t like reading blogs full of pointless profanities that distract from the writer’s message. Nothing will make me close down faster. I am not alone. Quentin Tarantino’s constant use of the f-word in his script for True Romance prompted one studio rep to write the following to his manager:
Dear Fucking Cathryn,
How dare you send me this fucking piece of shit. You must be out of your fucking mind. You want to know how I feel about it? Here’s your fucking piece of shit back. Fuck you. (Vanity Fair Magazine, March 2013, page 252).
I laughed for ages after reading this and feel the same way about Tarantino’s movies. They would be better without all that swearing.
But I digress. The primary reason I avoid littering my writing and conversations with expletives is the blonde ball of potential fury I will refer to as MM (My Mother).
MM’s mothering style could be characterized as relaxed but she had several non-negotiable rules: blood, pus, spots, swelling or vomit must be presented before staying home from school, bed – time is 7.30 and absolutely no swearing, including blasphemy.
My middle sister (MS) could have me in an apoplexy of terror if she threatened me with, “I’m going to tell Mum you used the f-word.” It didn’t matter I hadn’t said the “f-word”. Merely using this threat ended most childhood disputes and the victim would reluctantly hand over the cat or whatever prize we were fighting over.
Australia in the 1970’s was not a curse-free zone but it was easier to prevent children being exposed to bad language, if parents so desired. Adults generally didn’t swear around children and we never heard our parents’ friends or acquaintances use the f-word. The C-word was completely unthinkable. I can’t imagine what my stepfather would have done to anyone who used it around “the girls”, as he called us.
We didn’t live in a protected bubble. Sunday afternoons we visited my uncle’s tavern where my parents had a few drinks while we sat politely and sipped our lemon squash, without interrupting the adults. Saturdays we went to the football where my stepfather chain smoked cigarettes and managed to abuse the umpires without incurring MM’s wrath. Radios, television and films were similarly censored. The Internet with its attendant benefits and horrors was decades away.
In fact, I was never exposed to hard-core professional swearing (including liberal use of the c-word) until I joined the teaching staff of a large high school. The students’ language was almost as bad.
Our childhood prohibition on swearing has stayed with me. Every time I let fly when the Internet won’t connect or I bash a toe on the coffee table, I look around to make sure MM can’t hear me, even though she lives in Australia and I live in Nigeria.
This piece cannot finish without sharing the following story.
About 10 years ago MM was rushing around after working late (she had a hat party to attend, as you do) and fell over a rubber doormat carelessly placed in a store door way. I inspected her battered shins and swollen knees and assured her she wasn’t becoming, “One of those stupid old ladies who falls over things.”
MM went to the party but the evening was ruined and her new, specially purchased hat was wasted. The next evening her injuries felt worse (no surprises there, party girl!) so she decided to spend the night watching television with my nephew, who was 10.
At that time MM worked as a mobile banker and received a lot of work calls on her home telephone, as cell phones were prohibitively expensive for long calls. This evening the phone rang constantly and each time MM had to struggle up from the sofa and limp over to answer it, muttering away to herself (or so she thought).
After an evening of this constant painful shuffling to and fro, the telephone rang for the tenth time. My nephew turned to MM and with a cheeky grin on his freckly face declared, “There goes that fucking phone again, Gran.”