Discussin’ Cussin

Recently I’ve had a couple of folks comment on my uncommon cussin. (In the South, “cussin” is a word, not a contraction.) The comments arose not because of the frequency of my outbursts but rather because they are so mild in nature.

“Holy moly,” one I’ve used a lot lately, was found to be amusing by one of my artist friends.  She said she only knew one other person who used the expression, but she assured me that she felt it was charming.  She’s from Mississippi.  They find a lot of things “charming.”

Years ago while my brother and I were taking refuge in my truck to avoid a sudden thunderstorm, I realized that “Holy moly” was pretty much part of my DNA when a lightning bolt struck so close to the truck that I didn’t know if it had hit in front or in back of us.  My exact words were, “Holy moly!  Jiminy Crickets!”  My brother seemed to be highly amused by my chosen expletive.  I must admit that I was also a little amused by my involuntary reaction to the lightning strike.

Another long-time friend also found the use of the words “holy moly” to be a little light when it comes to cussin.  He knew me when I was still a youngster at LSU.  I guess my cussin was a little stronger when I was a youth.  Heck fire, everything was a little stronger in my youth.

Some time ago, I was thinking about the things I might have changed if I had a chance to do so.  The only thing which came to mind was my cussin.  It’s hard for boys to avoid these words which get others’ attention.  I guess they’re just part of the passage to manhood.

I’m pretty sure my cussin peaked when I was in the Army.  The old expression “cuss like a sailor” is firmly founded in the reality of military life.  It seems as though every sentence spoken while I was a soldier had at least some version of a cuss word.

When I began writing this essay, I commented to my wife of forty-three years, that I seldom cuss anymore.  She had the audacity to snicker at my statement about my reduction in cussin.  She pointed out that it wasn’t true when I drive.  Well, shoot...she’s correct as she is in most matters.  But, damn it, oops, some of the other folks who have drivers licenses need to have them revoked: a horn is an emergency device to be used in emergencies not to express opinions, doggone it.  I must admit that while driving I often feel a need to shoot the bird and issue forth the most awful of the forbidden words.

“Cussin” is, of course a Southern word based on the more widely used “cursing.”  In the South we may swear, but we never curse.  Other words for an expletive are swearword, invective, exclamation, oath, obscenity, four-letter word.

The South seems to have an abundance of creative cussin: Diggity diggity dang!  Dag nabbit! Fudge monkey possum! Egg-suckin dog! Doggonit! Dadblastit! Dang!  Dagnabit!  Blast it!  Balderdash!  Laws!  Jumpin' Jehosephat!  Fiddlesticks!  Fiddle-dee!  and some really mild ones that even church ladies might use--Oh Sugar!  Lawsy Me!  Mercy me!  Mercy sakes!  Oh my stars!  Oh my stars and garters!  Lands!  My lands!  Oh lands! Lands Sakes!  Sakes Alive!

All cuss words can be broken into two groups: obscene or profane.  Although “profane” has come to have little distinction from “obscene,”  it originally meant desecrating what is holy.  A blasphemous profanity is a little worse than a mere profanity.  The Bible specifically forbids the use of profanity: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7 (King James version).  Nuff said. 

On the other hand, an obscenity is a statement which strongly offends the morality of the time.  Through my years, these have become, unfortunately, more common.

We are all familiar with the mother of all obscenities.  It’s an English word that everyone considers vulgar.  It’s usually used to denote disdain or as an intensifier.  We know the word goes back to 1475 or earlier.  It has a number of derivatives and can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.  It even has compound forms.

Linda, my wife of forty-three years, doesn’t cuss.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  When under extreme duress, she may express a “damn.”  When I hear one of these, I jerk to attention because I know there are extreme circumstances.  We were married for about five years before I heard the first “damn” from her.  I was shocked into rapt attention.

Movies, for the most part, make no attempt to avoid cussin.  A wonderful exception to this is A Christmas Story.  Surely you’ve seen this wonderful film.  Ralphie speaks of his father’s cussin by saying, “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan,” and after Ralphie had unintentionally used the “queen-mother of dirty words” in the  presence of his father, he comments that, “I had heard that word a least ten times a day from my old man.  He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.  It was his true medium; a master.”  Yet, throughout the film, we never hear a true vulgarity unless you consider “dumb, frattin’, housesnickle viper!” to be one.

“The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way”  (Mark Twain, “Private and Public Morals” speech, 1906).  So if you have any objections to this essay you lantern jawed, donkey eared, mercury monkey, shark-skinned banana cream pie, go frig a batch of malevolent goat droppings... and bless your heart.


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