No, I wasn’t pondering whether I should cuss. I was thinking about the subject of cussing. (You usually don’t think about cussing before you cuss, you just do it. That’s sort of the point.)
What prompted this is the realization that cussing can make me feel better.
Say, I hit my funny bone. For some reason, yelling an obscenity makes me feel a little better. Same when some idiot cuts me off in traffic. Calling that driver an unmentionable name makes me feel a little better. Or, if I hear something objectionable on the news, I feel a little better after I scream a profanity at the TV.
I started wondering if cussing really makes me feel better or whether I am just rationalizing a bad habit. And if it really makes me feel better, why does it? (As one friend constantly reminds me, I’ve got too much time on my hands.)
So I started thinking about the subject of cussing. You know, cursing. Profanity. Swearing. Expletives. Bad words. Dirty words. Obscene language. Indecent language. Choice words. Blue language. Swear words. Foul language. Vulgar language. 4-letter words. Adult language.
I even did some research which yielded these 12 interesting facts about cussing . . .
There are scores of taboo words in English but 10 – fuck, shit, hell, damn, goddam, Jesus Christ, God, Oh My God, bitch and sucks – account for 80% of the cussing. (To me, sucks is not a cuss word, but what do I know?)
Fuck and shit alone account for about 1/3 to ½ of all cussing. (They’re the Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth of cuss words.)
These top 10 most frequently used cuss words remained essentially the same from 1986 to 2006 – although over much longer periods, what are considered curse words can change.
Typical speakers use about 15,000 to 16,000 words per day. Studies show that the percentage of taboo words is typically between .03% and .07%. That’s around 80-90 taboo words per day per person. (In the rest of this article, I will probably meet my quota for the day.)
There are substantial individual differences. Some speakers use profanity 0% of the time and the maximum rate shown in the studies is 3.4%. (What the hell is that 3.4% guy’s problem?)
Men swear more frequently in public than women, but the gap is closing. In 1986, men accounted for 67% of public swearing, but by 2006, the gap had narrowed to 55%.
Men say more offensive words (fuck, shit, motherfucker) more frequently than women do. Women say Oh my God, bitch, piss and retard more frequently than men do.
Men and women swear more frequently in the presence of their gender than in mixed-gender groups.
Swearing occurs across all age ranges but it peaks during the teenage years and declines thereafter.
Social rank plays a role in swearing. Socially low-ranking speakers produced higher rates of swearing than did high-ranking speakers.
Personality also plays a significant role in frequency of cursing. Hostile swearing is a defining feature of a Type A personality.
On the other hand, swearing is not as prevalent in populations characterized by high religiosity, sexual anxiety or sexual repressiveness.
Rules For Cussing
After thinking about this, and doing my research, here’s what I have concluded.
Cussing has existed since the beginning of language, and it exists in all languages. Most people cuss at one time or another — some more than others, of course. Since cussing has persisted over all these years, and is so pervasive, it must satisfy a need.
Actually, there are a number of needs cussing meets. We cuss in a number of different circumstances. For example, couples use curse words for intimate sex talk. And groups use cussing to bond, as a social lubricant. As in, “I haven’t seen this son of a bitch in years.”
But, mainly, we use cussing to vent, to blow off steam. To express and release emotion, mainly anger and frustration.
That’s why I let ‘er rip when my computer is not cooperative, when another driver is driving 10 mph below the speed limit in the fast lane or when it starts to rain when I am doing an outdoor activity.
I am convinced there are actually benefits to cussing in some circumstances.
There’s actually a study from Great Britain which concluded that cussing helps deal with pain. In that study, they had a number of volunteers hold their hands in frigid water until it became painful. Some of the subjects could repeat cuss words. The other group could only use non-taboo words. The researchers found that the cussing volunteers could withstand the pain longer.
I think there’s another study that concluded that cussing relieves tension.
Since I don’t see any chance that I’ll completely banish cussing, I have established some (somewhat tongue in cheek) personal rules for cussing and here they are:
1. I won’t overdo it. Cuss too much and it loses its “magic.” When in doubt, leave it out.
2. I’ll consider my audience. Without a good reason, I will try not to cuss around people I think will be offended. But see the exception to Rule 3.
3. I’ll cuss at situations and circumstances, but I won’t cuss atpeople . . . unless they deserve it. But if they deserve it, there is no substitute for “fuck you!.” I’m serious. I don’t know any way to convey the same intensity and emotion using non-taboo words. Just remember Rule 1.
4. I will try to use the lowest ranking cuss word that will do the trick. This is related to Rule 1. If you use the heavy duty curses too often, they lose their effectiveness.
5. I will feel free to cuss within groups that I am a member of where cussing is accepted, but I will also feel free not to cuss.
6. I will use cussing in jokes when it makes them funnier. I’m thinking of a particular joke where the punch line “Are you going to play golf or are you going to fuck around?” is 10 times funnier than the “screw around” version. Although I’ll consider my audience and avoid the joke altogether if appropriate – see Rule 2 — I’m going to keep using the funnier line.
7. When writing, I will use cuss words when they are the best way to convey what I want. But only then.
8. I will never use racial, ethnic or group epithets. Period.
With all of this said, I’m sure that, as is the case now, I won’t cuss very often. Just when it’s necessary . . . or when something really pisses me off.
(One of the things I do to have fun and stay positive is write. Therefore, I will from time to time post articles about writing. I hope you enjoy this one.)
I don’t read fiction.
It just doesn’t interest me. With limited time, I prefer non-fiction that can teach me something and make me more productive.
I don’t write fiction either. And I have little interest in technical writing, professional writing or poetry.
The focus here will be on expository writing (where you explain something) and persuasive writing (where you attempt to convince someone to adopt a certain view of take a particular action).
To get us started, here are my top 2 tips for better expository and persuasion writing . . .
A lot. See how the pros do it. Copy them. When you see something special, put it in your “swipe file” so you can use it later as a model for your own work. (Note that I’m not recommending that you re-use the same thing. That’s plagiarism.)
Just as it’s the way to get to Carnegie Hall in the old joke, the best way to become a better writer is to practice, practice, practice.
Now that I’ve demonstrated a mastery of the obvious, here are 10 more tips for sprucing up your persuasive writing. . .
3. Have Something To Say
“Good writing is good thinking expressed clearly.”
This simple definition by copywriter Michael Masterson brilliantly proves his point.
Invariably, when I am having trouble writing something, the problem is with my thinking. At some point, I realize that I just don’t really know what I want to say. As soon as my thinking gets more clear . . . voila! . . . so does my writing.
4. Just Start Writing
Some work better from an outline but most, including me, do better by starting out capturing what is inside us. All of it, the good and the bad. Just let it flow. From there, you can refine, organize and edit your writing.
5. Keep It Simple
Write to express, not to impress. Use the simplest word that will convey your point. Sometimes, “prolix,” “verbose” or even “loquacious” will be the exact word you need, but usually “talkative” or “wordy” will do the trick.
6. Write Short Declarative Sentences In The Active Voice
Active voice means the subject of the sentence does the acting. (The alternative, passive voice, means the subject of the sentence is acted upon.)
Usually, the active “Phil loves Kathie” is much stronger than the passive “Kathie is loved by Phil.”
7. Eliminate All Unnecessary Words
Make every word count.
This is a better sentence than “Make every single word count.” And it is a better sentence than “Always make every word count.”
8. While Writing Simply And Directly, Use Strong, Descriptive Words
“Mary ran home” is not as powerful as “Mary sprinted home” or “Mary sprinted home with an urgency she had never felt before.”
“The sunset was beautiful” is a yawner. “The setting sun set the sky ablaze with a combination of fiery red and flaming orange” is better and paints a picture that the reader can easily see.
One good way to edit is to read your work out loud.
10. Use Correct Spelling, Punctuation And Grammar
I admit that I am one of those people who dismisses, or at least diminishes, what is written with poor spelling, punctuation or grammar. And I’m sure I’m not the only language snob out here. Don’t give us an excuse to diminish your writing. Get the grammar basics right.
11. Organize Your Writing To Help Your Reader
Use headlines, sub-headlines and bullets to made it easy for your reader to see your main points. This is a virtual necessity for writing online where surfers stop briefly and won’t stay unless you quickly show them that you’ve got the goods they’re looking for.
12. Most Of All, Be Yourself
Few of us have anything original to say. If what we write has value it is because we bring our perspective and our experience to a topic. So, be yourself and tell your story. Tell it as if you were writing or speaking to a friend.
(To have fun and stay positive, I like to write. For others who share my interest in writing, I’ll occasionally share information about writing.)
A cliche is an expression that has been repeated so often that it has become stale, commonplace and virtually meaningless. Most cliché phrases were originally striking, but they lost their force through overuse.
Cliches are everywhere. Some of the most common cliches concern aging, love, life, time, money, justice, death, marriage, sex, sports, business and change.
Here are my nominations for the 10 most useless business cliches . . .
1. “Thinking outside of the box”
2. “A win-win situation”
3. “Giving 110%”
4. “Best Practices”
6. “Paradigm Shift”
7. “Core Competency”
8. “Best of Breed”
9. “Low-hanging fruit”
10. “Push the envelope”
These expressions have become trite and hackneyed. Don’t hide behind them. Explain yourself more clearly.
(One of the things I do to have fun and stay positive is write. That’s one reason why I created this blog. For anyone else who shares this interest, enjoy these fabulous and sagacious quotes about writing.)
These are a few of my favorite quotes about writing. Some are remarkably simple and clear. Others have hidden meaning that you only understand after you have done some writing. Pay particular attention to the first five.
“The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.”
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”
“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”
“I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
“About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.”
“Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.’”
“If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“This is the challenge of writing. You have to be very emotionally engaged in what you’re doing, or it comes out flat. You can’t fake your way through this.”
Real Live Preacher
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” Stephen King
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very'; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
C. S. Lewis
“This is the sixth book I’ve written, which isn’t bad for a guy who’s only read two.”