After many years of cultivating and employing an extensive list of swear words, I’m cleaning up my language. After all, when people 60 years younger than I am point at the counter at 7-Eleven and say, “I want that ______ candy bar, Mama!” and Mama says, “You ain’t getting’ no ______ candy bar!” it’s time for a change.
There’s just no shock value left when an 8-year-old kid talks like he just got back from a five-year stint as a deckhand on a tramp steamer.
Curiously, I don’t know how I came to be so … so … “salty,” as the expression goes. My father never cursed. Not once in his moderately long life did I ever hear him utter, wail or whisper a single profanity.
For all I know, he was the only soldier in WWII who carried a notebook of clean exclamations to be employed on certain occasions.
“Duck!” he probably said, as a German tank bore down on him and his platoon, “It’s a procreating Panzer tank! Those German offspring of unwed couples!”
It was his position, you understand, that swearing was a sign of a weak vocabulary, which might explain my constant need for a thesaurus.
He did once tell me, though, that he learned to swear in Arabic during the war and offered as proof, “shufte lafat naba’at.” I never knew its meaning and he wouldn’t tell me, but he did warn me never to repeat it.
All of which makes me wonder how I became so accomplished in the art of muttering maledictions (See? My vocabulary is getting better by the minute).
Besides the encounter with the malevolent little crumb-crusher at the convenience store, a more recent experience brought home the point that I need to do better.
It occurred when I was paddling alone in my fishing kayak and hooked into something larger than my usual wallet-size version of a real fish.
It pulled my boat this way and that, forward and around until it came to the surface and — flap! — Moby flounder jumped the hook and swam away.
“You ________!” I exclaimed.
Moments later, a voice floated over from a boat some 75 yards away: “I — thought — you — were — fishing — for — flounder, not _________s!” the nice lady yelled, one word at a time, across the open water. What’s — the — size — limit — on — _________s anyway? Ha—ha—ha—ha!”
There’s something about the speed of sound, distance and purposely inserted pauses that makes laughter of this nature sound somewhat less than spontaneous.
It comes across with the cadence a galley master uses when he bellows orders to the oarsmen: “stroke — stroke — stroke.” Ha — ha — ha, therefore, sounds more like sarcasm.
I had to respond, of course, and dragged up what I knew to be the most emphatic, totally demoralizing, soul-torching, worst curse of all time: “shufte lafat naba’at,” I bellowed back.
And then I heard her say, “That’s amazing, Omar, he just spoke Arabic for, ‘I saw a turnip.’”
So yes, it’s clearly way past time for a change.