I swear not to swear
Hannah, 16, has realized that cussing makes her look bad, so she’s trying to stop. WITH interviews with teens asking what they think about cussing.
The bell rang and the hallways flooded with students. Slightly dizzy from only four hours of sleep, I tripped and collided with a stranger … a very large stranger.
“Stupid f***ing freshman,” he growled, “who the f*** do you think you f***ing are? Watch where the f*** you’re going.”
Muttering a quick “My bad,” I ducked back into the flow of hallway traffic. During class, I thought about his words and realized that it’s easy to use bad language.
I thought about all the stories I’d told, and realized that when I cut out the bad words, I was left with a text as bland as a second-grade phonetics book. A conversation about “the bleeping unfair teacher” became about “the unfair teacher.”
Why did I have to rely on profanity to make my stories sound more exciting? The New York Times would never publish the f-word. President Obama didn’t have to use it in his “Yes We Can” speech to get elected. Neither did Martin Luther King Jr. They could make a strong point without an f-bomb for emphasis.
My friends and I started using profanity regularly in middle school. Ironically, we were the good kids. Looking back, the biggest appeal of bad language was that it gave us a chance to rebel against the constant expectations of honor roll certificates and A-plus papers.
I was proud that I swore the most
My friends’ mouths were pretty bad—but no one could outdo me. When my friends introduced me, they said, “and this is Hannah, with the potty mouth.” I didn’t feel bad about it—it was refreshing to come out of a classroom and lash out verbally about a teacher. I didn’t tag desks, I didn’t listen to heavy metal or dye my hair—swearing was my rebellion.
One day a student I had just met told me, “It seems like you throw in at least one cuss word per sentence!” I laughed it off, but her comment bothered me. Her tone made it obvious that she didn’t appreciate my language, while I had thought everyone liked how I told my stories. However, even this didn’t prevent me from cussing.
What made me try to stop were my younger brothers: 13-year-old Eric and 11-year-old David.
One day sophomore year, I overheard them arguing. “Eric, can you stop tapping your foot?!” David shouted.
“Shut the f*** up!” Eric responded.
Before I knew it, I was roaring, “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?” Eric flinched as I slapped his arm.
“What the h*** did you do that for?!” Eric yelled back.
When my parents found out what he said, they took away his beloved GameBoy and said, “That is a bad word, and we do not have bad words inside this house.”
They explained that people didn’t respect you when you talked “like a gang member.” Eric tuned them out, nodding at intervals to get things over with. However, my parents believed they had convinced him to stop swearing.
Later that night, I remembered how when I was a fifth grader I told someone to “shut up” in front of my mom. My mom was shocked and scolded me. I suddenly realized how I must sound to the rest of the world—immature. I knew the way I felt about my brother was exactly what my mother must have felt when I used “shut up.” I never wanted anyone to feel that way about my language again.
Now, I would like to tell you that I never used a bad word again … but I can’t.
It was really hard to stop
Often, my stories would start, “So one day, I was so f***ing late for class …” then stop immediately as I realized my mistake. My friends didn’t know I was trying to cut back on cussing, resulting in many impatient stares.
I kept my crusade to myself because I couldn’t stand the thought of someone knowing I couldn’t stop cussing. After several weeks, I was failing dismally. Every day before I would go to bed, I would think about my progress. The entire time, I didn’t have one curse-free day.
Finally, I told one of my close friends. “Janet, do you think I cuss a lot?”
She gave me the “Are you seriously asking me that question?” look. I cringed, but didn’t back down.
“Not at all,” she said.
“No, you idiot!”
I sighed. “Janet, I want to try and stop cussing. Do you think you could let me know every time I said something vaguely not PG?”
She seemed surprised. “Sure Hannah. I’ll even slap you, so the message really gets through to you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Thanks.”
Sure enough, weeks passed, new bruises bloomed (thanks, Janet) and then faded, and people noticed that I swore less. I’m not advocating abuse among friends, although it may be effective. All I needed was a little support, and maybe a little discipline.
As for my brother, I had one of those “serious talks,” which he mostly ignored.
Even if he ignored my words, I was sure he’d be using less inappropriate language, even if the only reason was to avoid another long and boring lecture from me. I only hoped that the next time I lectured him, I wouldn’t be a hypocrite, but a role model.