To the Beautiful, Smart Girl Dropping F-bombs

To The Beautiful, Smart Girl Dropping

To the beautiful, smart young woman I saw today,

I was one of the passers by at the restaurant you were at this afternoon: a nameless face walking past while you sat on the patio with your friends. I heard you before I saw you, telling a story about pillows. You called them f*!#ing pillows. It got my attention. By the time I got near to where you were at I’d heard a little more about how f#*@ing frustrated you were about having to change them, and you asked your friends beseechingly: “how was I supposed to f@#*ing know?”

By then, I was near my car and nearly out of earshot, so I looked back quickly one more time. Yes, you are beautiful. And you had everyone’s attention. And I could tell by your collegiate sweater that you are smart too: it takes a 4.0 to get into the school whose name you wore today. And I wondered if you knew how very beautiful and smart and captivating you are – and how the constant use of F@*# in your dialog detracted, rather than added, to your attractiveness?

I wasn’t with my kids today, so it wasn’t that I was worried they’d hear and do their repeat-the-new-word playbook all the way home. It also wasn’t that I was offended. I have said similar things in times of extreme stress (it is a tough ask to find a woman who has given birth and didn’t reserve some choice words for the process). But the story you were telling was about pillows. And housemates. And chores. And I think you wasted the big words on such very not-big things.

Which is a pity.

I can remember a time when I swore a lot more. At the time, the words tasted like independence and free speech and power. They said “I’m an adult – I can say what I want. The teachers and my parents can’t hear me or stop me.”  But a few years down the road I realized they left an empty taste in my mouth – and my words were powerful, more independent, and actually freer without them. There were so many other, marvelous, descriptive adjectives I had been missing while relying on the cheap-thrill of the F-bomb. Like pusillanimous. And geriatric. And wretched. And bombastic. Even once I’d realized that swearing wasn’t doing me any favors, it took a while to break the habit… but it was a habit worth breaking.

Really, adulthood means not just saying what you want – but saying what is needed, what is true, what is right. Even if you’re telling a story about pillows.

Just a thought, from a stranger who thought you were lovely, and could have been lovelier yet with a few less words.

25 thoughts on “To the Beautiful, Smart Girl Dropping F-bombs

  1. ABsolutely wonderful. I have gotten the same experience a lot and even more recently when I came in contact with young ladies, pretty, yet with putty mouth. What a shame: such intelligence, yet foul speech. vw

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  2. I like the way you wrote this. It’s not about you being offended or you criticising her for being “foul mouthed” – which is the usual argument… it’s about saying ‘there’s so much more’! The English language is fabulous and has just so many adjectives! Smart people use them!!

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  3. I feel similarly, and for similar reasons. I would add another reason, though. I rarely cuss, except when I find myself in extreme situations — those in which I am extremely frightened, or extremely angry. And because I don’t dilute their impact by frequent use, cuss words are more effective, startling and even satisfying when I do use them.

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  4. I love this. It’s beautifully observed and recalled and responded to. And an inspiration to those of us who are still young and reckless (and are surrounded by even more young and reckless toddlers :) ).

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  5. Interesting to hear. I never would’ve guessed you as a swearer, Bronwyn :) I’ve become less and less concerned with people/myself swearing as time goes on (and being surrounded by highly conservative Bible Belt culture I want to distance myself from might have something to do with it). But it’s fun to hear something from the other side :)

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  6. I had a camp counselor/director when I was in jr. high that repeatedly told us the only time we (or the counselors) could cuss was if the bus ran over our foot. He said in every other circumstance we could find a different word to use. It made quite a difference to me! Much more than if he had just outlawed it – rather he gave us the appropriate situation in which to use it. And no, the bus never did run over anyone’s foot. :)

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  7. Jenny from WCCB here. I think it’s very telling that when kids learn a foreign language, whether English or something else, the main thing they want to learn are the bad words. They see that as their ticket to assimilating with the cool, young crowd, and unfortunately, they’re often correct.

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  8. I literally just now found your blog but I read this post and had to comment! I totally understand where you’re coming from but as someone who just yesterday used the phrase “f@#king abhorrent” I think i’m getting the best of both worlds. I pride myself on my extensive vocabulary and I relish using all the words available to me to detail the things I experience, but I also love to swear. I don’t think it detracts from my speech amongst friends and i’ve got an impeccable filter (you have to when you’re a school teacher!), I don’t think i’m missing out on other words by replacing them with swear words, I think i’m remaining a young, smart, and beautiful woman despite the number of times I drop an f bomb in a day.

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    • Something I wonder, and Meagan maybe you can relate, is that this issue tends to come up more with girls swearing than with guys swearing. Why do we pick on girls for this more than boys? I’m not trying to invalidate the opinions of those who don’t like to hear swearing–I’m sure you dislike it equally from guys and girls, but somehow it’s a little more “forgivable” from guys. My guy friends have rarely been called out on it, but my girlfriends get called out on it all the time. Why the gender bias? If you’re going to say “no” to swearing, say no to both genders equally.

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      • I hate it when guys curse. It actually intimidates me. Guys who can’t control something like their words are unlikely to be able to control much else. I don’t like it when girls curse either but it doesn’t bother me in the same way. I’m much more likely to leave the conversation if a male is doing the cursing.

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      • The guys at the table were silent, in this case listening to the woman who occasioned the letter. I find swearing just as unnecessary and abrasive in men as I do in women… Although I should say that often when I happen upon a group of college guys swearing, they cut it out as soon as they see me :-)

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  9. I read a lot of secular fiction, and in the past ten years or so, I’ve noticed that “literary novels” are often obscenity-laden, with the f-word being prominently featured. Obviously, the novelists are smart, literate, and aware of their language. It’s almost shocking when a literary novel DOESN’T use the f-word at least once. (A digression: I read The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a thoroughly secular novel involving a young woman and her gay brother, who dies of AIDS in the 80s. Halfway through, I realized: there’s NO SWEARING in this. None, not even OMG. I was shocked.)

    I’m not offended by the swearing, though. In certain novels, the context almost demands the use of bad language, such as characters who would use these words in real life because they have a very limited vocabulary because of poor education. It’s the novels about well-educated people who seem intent on using the f-word in every possible manner that grate on my nerves. They could use many other words, but they (like the beautiful girl in your post) choose the easy route of casual cursing. I guess these characters (and their authors) think this makes them edgy or hip or above conventional standards of decency. (As in, “I’m a LITERARY novelist, and I’m above the bounds of traditional constraints that govern those silly genre novels!”)

    As a writer, I try to use curse words sparingly. They’re more effective when used once in a book, in a situation that warrants it, than when they’re used on every page.

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    • I agree!!! It’s the sheer number of the swear words that seems so OTT. Paul the apostle comes to mind, choosing a rude word on Philippians (what? A crude word in the bible?), but the occasion warranted it and it certainly makes a point!

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  10. Lovely thoughts, written well. I love what you said. I wish those thoughts had enlarged from that original observation to include men and women. It would have been a powerful message to show my son. It also would have deepened your message and away from the secondary point of young women being “more lovely”. I get what you are saying and agree but so often women are asked to remain lovely and anything powerful or critical or ugly that comes out of their mouths somehow makes them less. I feel young men also suffer this but by not pointing it out, you run the risk of perpetuating a time honored gender bias.

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  11. I love this:
    Really, adulthood means not just saying what you want – but saying what is needed, what is true, what is right. Even if you’re telling a story about pillows.
    Thanks for that truth, so beautifully written!

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  12. I don’t think it’s wrong to swear, per se. But from what you described, it sounds like those powerful words were wasted on a topic that really didn’t call for them. And purposely trying to call attention to yourself by talking that way is plain old immaturity.

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