When I was a freshman in high school, I decided to break myself of cursing. My strategy: for every bad word I said during the day, I would have to write a sentence in my journal at night.
The problem was, I liked writing. I also liked cursing. Instead of one serving as a deterrent to the other, I just continued doing both — as I do to this day. Luckily, former technology exec Christopher Lochhead is on my side. In his essay for CBS News, "In Praise of Cussing," he writes,
Ah, swearing. We love to do it. Understanding why it's so popular is less self-evident. But after four decades of first-hand trial and error, I think I'm on solid ground by saying that for most Americans, swearing is an eminently satisfying, if not authentic, mode of self-expression. With one strong cuss you can probably express every human emotion from love to hate precisely because swearing offers such a powerful release.
He goes on to say that lots of successful people (like Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel) curse, that cursing can encourage teamwork, and that, "in times of joy, cussing positively lifts hearts." However, he also warns that "there are times in business when swearing can backfire by making you appear weak as if you were trying to compensate for some deficiency."
There are times in social life when cursing can backfire too. I'm not just talking about saying fuck in front of your grandma — there can also be something pretentious about swearing. At one point in college a friend of mine pointed out that we had started cursing a lot when we were having intellectual conversations, as though trying to prove we were still cool. Talking about, say, "motherfucking post-structuralists" began to seem annoying, a facile combination of high and low that now seems like it belongs on Stuff White People Like. So as not to be assholes, we were forced to cut it out.
While I've never bought the schoolmarmy maxim that cursing is an un-creative form of verbal expression, I agree with Lochhead that "there's a time and a place for swearing." Or rather, a variety of times and places. These include, but are not limited to: driving, fighting, watching a sporting event, drinking, drinking while watching a sporting event and/or fighting, watching your candidate win an election, watching the opposing candidate win an election, watching Sarah Palin do anything, eating hot sauce, stubbing your toe, crying, finding a big bug somewhere unexpected, and anything having to do with Bill O'Reilly. And, of course, writing.
In Praise Of Cussing [CBS]