More on the evolution of words

Marge Flados

There were two previous columns on the origin of blasphemous or swear words that are spoken in frustration, anger or pain. This will be the third and last column on the subject of cussing. My mother did not allow her children to swear and she was never heard to say so much as “darn” even when aggravated. So we didn’t do it because in those days the penalty for swearing was a big bar of P&G laundry soap rubbed a few time across your front teeth. I never had the experience, but I think my brother did once, and it was the prospect that is could happen to us that kept all four of us swear-free.

As admitted earlier, my dad swore in German and English, my grandfather in Norwegian so I learned how to cuss in three languages because I have ears. (But I didn’t do it, of course.) However, there was the time while removing a casserole from the oven that, I accidently dropped it and it landed upside down on the kitchen floor. My family was already at the table when this happened and I was thankful my mother was not around to hear me express my dismay at the sorry mess. It resulted in a soap-worthy display of cussing in three languages. Sadly, it was done in the presence of my husband (who did not swear) and our kids, more’s the pity. I should have washed my own mouth out with soap!

The word cuss has evolved too. It is often pronounced “curse”. But I think the “r” was removed from the word in Boston where no one says an “r” like it is supposed to sound or it was the result of speech impediments by a lot of people. The “r” in our language is made by curling one’s tongue upward at the outer tip. Holding the tongue straight will not produce a proper “r” sound. What that tells us about the tongues in Boston is your guess.

Oath became swear, swear became curse and curse became cuss. Cuss is an un-pretty word that describes an un-pretty habit. However there are some misunderstandings about that too. It is commonly said that people with limited vocabularies resort to swearing for lack of the right words to say when they are frustrated or angry.

Wrong. Studies show that people with well-developed vocabularies cuss better and more fluently than those with a limited vocabulary. That did not surprise me, I am a word smith and I am quite certain that I could cuss fluently, (but of course I don’t). Well, not often. Studies show that women swear as much as men and although considered a bad habit, it can be beneficial in ways one would not suspect.

Swearing helps make pain more bearable. It is a way to ease intolerable situations and actually can soothe emotions in highly charged-damaging -to-your-heart moments, like when I dropped the casserole. Had I not cussed I may have died of a heart attack.

The cussing habit is not necessarily a bad thing according to what I have read. It has been shown that swearing relieves pain and stress, fosters friendliness among peers, indicates verbal fluency and openness as well as relatively high intelligence. It is also a typical verbal habit of the Type A Personality in men. I am wondering if that would apply to Alpha females, since in later life, I have learned that I am one of. Those.

In spite of my leniency in regards to swearing, there are some four-letter words in common usage today that I find extremely offensive: Blasphemy and the ugly, naughty four-letter words can indeed be associated with limited vocabulary, in my opinion. Seeing them written or hearing them spoken can be so offensive it makes one cringe and the penalty should be to have their mouths washed out with P&G laundry soap. It worked for me and my siblings. Extreme? Yep, I am “extremely” offended by those words and so are most of the people I know.

I am not advocating that we all cuss for what it offers therapeutically for it rarely impresses anyone. In this case there was a need for the facts pertaining to, effects of and a clarification of the habit of cursing. From experience I can assure my readers who just perchance may drop a boiling hot casserole on the floor and have it land upside down and splatters on your flip-flop-clad feet, “Oh fiddle-dee-dee” just won’t cut it.

Sources: National Geographic, Discovery Magazine, Science Alert, Psychological Science and others

Marge Flados resides in Harlingen, Texas and can be reached at nflados@gmail.com 

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