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Swearing in the Year

January 2, 2012

It’s the turn of the year, a perfect time to sit by the fire and ponder the perennial questions like: who am I, really? where are my children? am I swearing enough?

I was lucky enough to be inducted early into the pleasures of cursing. Among his many talents, my father was an artist of the profane phrase; a choice set of words leaving in his mouth could sound like the sharp crack of a branch, or be stretched as long as a breath would allow into a lament ending in an awesome hush. For all the things that seemed to go wrong in his life — for all the wrong turns, all the dropped hammers, all the missed fish, all the splinters, and the divorce — he made up for it with the perfect beauty of his swearing.

There are a few friends on whom I rely, when I’m missing my father, for the words and the phrasing I love so well.  To be sure, I can do it myself, and I wonder if as I get older and more things go wrong I am actually getting better at it, but that would be for someone else to say.

I can’t call it sport, but there is discernment. There are the staples: the words one uses for everyday emphasis or in ordinary moments of distress, like salt and bread. There are the special occasion words spoken rarely, like a dress you pull out of the closet once every two years; there are the words you just like to hear someone else say for fun, and there are the words you only want to hear spoken by a supremely handsome or ugly person in a movie, at the theatre or on the street.

For all the wisdom I ignored from my father, in this aspect I seem to be adhering to the style of a purist. Rather than resorting to cheap filler, which would make me sound like a greenhorn and cause him to be ashamed, I seem to be using fewer words — the classics, you might say — more expressively.  Every now and then I watch a mob movie just to freshen up my delivery.

Altogether, I’m pretty content with where I am in the swearing department.

If my father could hear me drop a carton of eggs he’d be proud.

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