Fuck. Shit. Damn. Cunt. Bitch. Bastard. Asshole.
My friends. Comrades. Allies. And now I had no choice but to turn my back and shun them like a spurned lover.
In May, I resolved to not swear. Most of my monthly resolutions gave up something tangible—alcohol, meat, marijuana. So to give up something abstract—a set of words, no less—was new ground. My mind needed to be sharp, my focus at an all-time high. But I was up for the challenge.
Swearing and I have a long and proud history. I heard my first swearword when I was six. The song was “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette and the word was “chickenshit” (you and your devil music, Alanis!). My dad, responsible father he is, told me that “chickenshit” was a “bad” word and to never say it.
So I went through most of my childhood and early adolescence with a clean mouth, one of my many golden child characteristics.
Somewhere between the ages of 16 and 17, I started testing the welcoming waters of swearing. It didn’t take long before I realized that swearing is fucking awesome. It’s one of the most concise ways to sum up a feeling—be it anger or elatedness. It’s a good way to build camaraderie with friends. And most of all, when used correctly, swearing is funny as fuck. By the time I graduated high school, I frequently seasoned my sentences with “fuck” and peppered them with “shit.”
My only overarching rule was to never swear in front of my parents. If it came down to it, I think they would rather me drop acid than say “fuck” in their presence. In fact, to this day, they have only heard me swear once.
I was in my apartment bathroom enjoying some “me time” and the Adam Carolla book, when my brother, who attended the same university, walked in:
Brother: “Hey dude, you there?”
Me: “Yeah, I’m in the bathroom.”
Brother: “Well, uh, what are you doing?”
Me: “Dude. I’m taking a shit.”
Mom: “Hi Alex, your parents are here too!”
Thanks for the heads up dude!
So near the end of April, when I told my mom May’s resolution, she responded with:
Mom: “Well sweetie, that will be easy. You never swear.”
Me: “Yeah, well… not around you.”
From that, I developed a corollary: pretend like my mom was perched on my shoulder listening to every word I said. I had to revert back to the days when swearing was a forbidden sin, when every time I heard “fuck,” my neck would tingle and a shiver would run through my spine
I also needed to develop some stakes.
I very openly told my friends that for May only, if they caught me swearing, I would hand them a crisp 20 bucks. Fuck 25 cent swear jars and the participating middle-aged men that are afraid of putting a little hair on their kid’s chest. I go big or go home. Or in this case, go broke.
Twenty-four hours in, I quickly found that not swearing is suffocating. Communication changed entirely. I spoke slower and chose my words carefully. In some ways, this was beneficial—I sounded more intelligent and spoke more clearly. But I was paranoid that my vocal chords would succumb to the dark side before my brain could severe the neural connections with a synaptic lightsaber.
As a result, my mind was constantly preoccupied with trying not to swear. I could feel a “fuck” or “shit” lurking just behind my uvula, biding its time before its emphatic moment of release.
The paranoia was justified.
Two days in, I dropped an unassuming d-bomb. A week in, a few more d-bombs, an a-bomb, and an f-bomb followed.
The Battle for May was lost. It would just be a matter of whether the bombs could be contained or whether they would incite my own personal nuclear holocaust.
It’s not that I wasn’t trying. I was. Fiercely. But I had grossly underestimated how difficult it is to remove a set of words from one’s vocabulary. Swearing had become so ingrained, such an essential part of my communication with others, that “fuck” had burrowed deep into my subconscious. And it was damn comfortable in its ancient sheltered cave.
Not helping matters was that my social circle isn’t exactly comprised of do-gooders and saints. Meaning that my friends can be a little rough around the edges. Which led to a startling truth:
People cuss. A fuckton.
In a study to estimate how much the average American swears, a U.S. psychologist named Timothy Jay estimated the number to be 80 to 90 times a day.
Ninety times! Holy shit!
I needed armor. The cussing barrage was unrelenting. So I drew up some biological schematics and devised a plan.
Every time I heard a swearword drop, I reflexively retracted my diaphragm. After doing this several times, that telltale pit-in-the-stomach feeling became ingrained. It was some straight Clockwork Orange shit—both my body and mind were now repulsed by swearing. Another win for science!
But even with Pavlovian psychology on my side, I was still fucking up. A shitload.
I found that I was especially susceptible in periods of boredom, intoxication, or distraction. Which, to put it bluntly, are states that occur in my life frequently.
The infractions were diverse and numerous. While searching for a word, I have the bad habit of filling the silence with “fucking.” Like “Hey dude can you pass the, uh, fucking, uhh… ketchup?” Or sometimes, my mind would drift out of focus and a “shit” would worm its way into a sentence. If I was baked, the game was over—virtually any time I eat food I’ll celebrate the end of the meal by exclaiming “that was goddamn delicious.”
To make matters worse, faux swearwords blow. Saying “shoot,” “darn,” and “shucks,” is not satisfying, like expecting Seinfeld and being subjected to Two and a Half Men. “F-word!” or “S-word!” felt forced. Most times, I just said nothing and found ways to circumnavigate the fuck-shit-pitfalls. Which left a noticeable emptiness.
And ever wonder how much your friends are worth? Like if you had to put a quantifiable number on it?
Because in my case, their allegiance could be easily purchased for 20 bucks.
The Andrew Jackson Swear Jar seemed like a helpful idea. In reality, it was like having my own personal set of Nazi Gestapos. Exclamations of “b-word!” were followed with a cocked eye and “Which b-word? Bastard or Bitch?” Every time my mouth moved, the contents from within were strictly scrutinized. At this point, my roommates, who had stuck to innocuous annoyances like cooking meat literally every day during my vegetarian month, became downright ruthless.
I managed to make it 8 days before I had to shell out my first $20. At Nick’s Taco Tuesdays, the conversation turned to the limits for this month’s experiment. My roommate asked, “Wait you can say crap and damn?” I replied, “No, I’m not allowed to say damn.”
Fingers pointed and that was that. I opened and closed my mouth a few times in frustration, searching for the words to express my displeasure. Since they were all banned, none came. Instead, I was forced to open my wallet.
A late May Memorial Day Vegas trip didn’t help matters. In fact, it pushed me from about 10 infractions to over 20. What can I say? When the entire city economy is based on people losing money, a drastic spike in swearing is a natural accompaniment. Also, I was hammered.
Luckily, I was only caught one of those times, while singing along to a song and mimicking the word “bitch.” Since swearing is so ubiquitous, the silver lining was that no one else noticed when I swore in turn. So what could have been a $200 dent was only a mere $40, which my semi-guilty friends just reinvested in buying drinks anyway.
But even without a hefty fine, to say that this month approached anything nearing success would be ridiculous. It was a fucking disaster. In previous months, one infraction would send my head spinning. For May, I lost count at 20.
I needed a stimulus package after Hurricane Shit-rina. But I couldn’t call home to cry about it.
Because in June, I wouldn’t have a phone.