In Which I Attempt to Coin the Term “Literary Swearing”

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about swearing. Contrary to the teasers I posted in my Facebook and Twitter accounts, it was not about cursing. It was about swearing an oath, and it was very interesting.


When posting those teasers I realized that I really should write a blog about swearing, because let’s face it, I love swearing. You’re either completely surprised by this or think it is amazing that anyone would be surprised by this. This is because, by-and-large, swearing is considered inappropriate, so I don’t do it in my professional life. Apparently, if you want people to take you seriously and/or pay you money to do anything for them, it’s unwise to thread swearing through your speech like you’re trying to win some sort of cursing competition. To my chagrin.

But I’m not a compulsive swearer; I don’t do it to shock people with my dirty little mouth or to expose some Freudian desire to seem older or more experienced than I believe people perceive me to be (OK, there might be a little of that, but I’m five-foot-two and a youngest child. What do you expect?). The frequency of my swearing is (intended to be) matched only by the quality of it. That’s right. I consider myself to be a quality curser – a literary swearer, even.

If you don’t know what I mean by that, you are not a fan of Ben Folds. I can attest, along with certain members of my junior high school, that my interest in swearing didn’t pique in time with my classmates’ rebellious verbal experimentation. Oh no, I was told swearing was naughty and I was completely fine with that explanation. Until, however, I developed a pre-teen interest in the band Ben Folds Five. Paired with my pre-teen obsession with writing, this interested led me to stumble into a lyric which totally, completely and utterly changed me:

I’ve got this great idea 

Who doesn't love this album? Crazy people. Crazy people, I say.

Why don’t we pitch it to the Franklin F***ing Mint
Fine pewter portraits of
general apathy and major boredom singing…
whatever and ever amen

Hilarious, right? Well, what you can’t tell from the simple verse of the song, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” is that not only does the f-bomb totally underline the deadpan sarcasm in a fantastic way, but these words are also accompanied by a clashing, rousing bunch of instruments playing wildly – and then – and then, suddenly you’re at “whatever and ever amen,” which is hushed and melodic and absolutely beautiful. It’s the album title, in fact, which I think is no coincidence.

It’s the contrast, both musically and between the “f***” and the “amen” that makes the whole verse so powerful. This narrator has it in his soul and his experience to understand and express the holy and the profane, and he has the skill to find a place where they almost intersect.

I was f***ing sold. If you’re not, listen to the song. Or try some of Ben Fold’s other personal swearing bests in, “You Don’t Know Me,” “Song for the Dumped,” “All You Can Eat,” or “The Bitch Went Nuts.” Fan. Tas. Tic.

So that’s what I try to do with my swearing. I try not to swear unnecessarily, but when humor is enhanced by it and – more importantly – when drama is deepened by it. Therefore, it ends up all over what I consider to be the best of my writing.

Well s**t, we all need a calling card, right?

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