Swearing in a new year

By Kris Ferrazza | Jan 03, 2019

Over the holiday break, my daughter and I submerged ourselves in the stately world of Downton Abbey. If binge-watching countless episodes of life at Grantham House makes you realize anything at all, it’s that your life lacks civility.

So for the new year I have resolved to choose my words more carefully. I shall stop swearing completely. Now sure, I don’t have an army of butlers, valets, cooks, housekeepers and lady's maids to shelter me from all of life’s unpleasantries. But I think if I really apply myself, I can do it. My daughter is mild-mannered, so I’ve yet to hear her utter a curse word, even though she is going on 13.

Remembering back when I was 13, I know I was starting to test-drive a few curse words. I'd try them out when I was out with friends, or alone at the horse barn, but it never felt quite right to me. That may be because my parents seldom swore. My father, the child of immigrants, sometimes lapsed into Italian when he became agitated. One minute he’d be trying to repair his reading glasses, breathing heavily while wearing a headlamp and fiddling with the world’s tiniest screwdriver. The next minute he’d let fly a string of Italian phrases that sounded familiar, but were meaningless to me. I later realized he was cursing up a storm in his native tongue. Believe me when I tell you, nobody swears like the Italians. But more about that later.

My mom rarely uttered a vulgarity, despite raising five kids under often-stressful conditions. The only time I ever heard her drop "the big one" was when she closed her hand in the car door one day. We all were piled in the back seat, and in a hurry to leave. She clutched her crippled paw, wiped away a quick tear, then apologized to anyone who may have heard. It was a heavy Chrysler car door too. I still can hear the deep “clunk” sound of it closing now. Shivers.

A college friend once told me there was only one thing that made her Christian mother swear. It was whenever one of the clear glass lids to her Pyrex baking dishes got broken. They were nearly impossible to replace in those days, and apparently that was what upset her most in life. I still think of that sweet lady anytime I see Pyrex, rest her soul.

I’d describe my own level of profanity as PG-13. I realized this when I went off to college and encountered some really spicy language from the girls in my dormitory. They were crude, rude and socially unacceptable, but hilarious. They talked in a way that would make a sailor blush. I’d say they definitely were rated R for mature audiences. Once they realized I was not one of them, they ratcheted their language up to an X rating, just for laughs. They took delight in seeing how crass they could get with their lewd and lascivious comments. Making me blush was worth bonus points.

After awhile it became tiresome, so I decided if I couldn’t beat them, I’d join them. I never quite reached their level of blasphemy, but learned to appreciate the fun of shocking them now and then.These days, anytime I want to let off a little steam, I resort to my father’s method of swearing. I use Italian. It works here in Maine, but anytime I’ve said a few choice words in Boston, Providence or New York, I’ve gotten a little side eye.

When my husband and I traveled to Italy years ago, someone commented on my last name and asked if I spoke Italian. I said, “Only the swear words,” and laughed. He insisted on hearing what I knew. I shook my head, saying I couldn’t possibly. He gestured to his ear and said I could whisper it. Maybe it was the wine; I don’t know what possessed me, but I did it. As I spoke, his eyes grew wide. He gasped and he drew back, covering his mouth with one hand and mine with the other. “Don’t speak!” he sputtered in Italian, wagging his finger at me. “No, don’t speak! Not in Italian!" He repeated what I’d said in his friend’s ear. He had the same shocked reaction, then laughed loudly and passed it along.

Not sure of exactly what I’d said, I looked up the phrases I’d perfected over the years by mimicking my dear old Dad. To say they were offensive and crude is an understatement. Some referred to the spawn of the devil, filth and private body parts. Others compared people to animals (mostly pigs, cows and horses) and ladies of the night. The last insulted female family members (mothers, sisters and even the deceased). Needless to say, they never expected to hear those words come out of this sweet girl from Maine.

The Italians swear like nobody’s business. They will curse your enemy’s dead relatives, comment on body parts, flash devil horns and level a curse. They will call you and your dog ugly, tell you your spouse is cheating, and say you are boring and extremely stupid. But have no fear, the language is so lovely, it all sounds like a compliment. When they aren’t speaking, they can use hand gestures that amount to a secret form of sign language. These often mean, “This makes no sense,” “You’re boring me,” and “This one is crazy.” Other dismissive gestures imply they don’t care, they suspect you are after money, or you are a liar or a thief. And if they grasp their own body parts: the bicep - or something lower - it’s not a good thing.

Since I’m only half-Italian, I figured I had escaped the cursing DNA. But when I went into labor with my daughter, I quickly realized the best way to survive contractions was to say a few choice words. With every wave of pain, I’d utter a string of premium profanities and notice immediately my pain was reduced. Then I’d be hit was a wave of guilt. “This is no way to bring an innocent baby into the world,” I’d tell my husband between contractions. Then I’d be hit with another one and start swearing again.

I’d all but forgotten that until I read an article recently that said cursing lessens physical pain. A study showed people were able to keep their hands submerged in ice water and ignore the pain for longer if they were allowed to swear, Not only that, but the stronger the swear words, the longer they could tolerate it. I felt vindicated.

So for the time being, I’m in no pain, and in no need of a swear jar. I shall simply quit cold turkey and remember, in the words of the Dowager Countess Lady Violet, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

And the beat goes on.


Kris Ferrazza is a former reporter, assistant editor, copy editor and columnist with the Courier newspapers. She lives in Waldoboro.


Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 03, 2019 13:47

...That is until another labor pain hits you????

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 03, 2019 13:47

...That is until another labor pain hits you????

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