BY KIM THOMPSON
Sometimes, I like to swear.
The truth is using profane language is absolutely a part of who I am. I’m not proud of it. I realize it’s a risk even to confess this sin, but I still hesitate to apologize, much less completely cease my crude vocabulary. I just don’t see it as an all-or-nothing issue. Words are powerful, and there’s a reason they exist.
The complexities of choosing to use or not to use profanity are real. The ol’ “there is a time and a place” might be a start, but even that oversimplifies it. I would contend that unexpected profanity can elicit the exact effect one seeks. Even a stodgy aging school teacher can win over 99 percent of her class with a single wry, “Hell no,” at just the right time. I know; I’ve done it.
Rhett Butler would never gain our respect without his famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”
I recall when the cast of “Friends” first openly used the B-word on prime time television. I admit, I had mixed feelings. It was lowering the cultural bar for sure. It was also pretty funny. I like funny. I liked the characters, and I could see they were still good people. I understood the moral ambiguity.
Profanity always risks harsh judgment from some. Oh, don’t think I haven’t been confronted. Yet, after 26 years of teaching, and toning down my profanity considerably, some lighter uses of profanity on rare occasions still earn a resounding nod of the collective head. The vast majority who comment on it actually thank me for setting the classroom tone — not for a crude lack of boundaries but for a refreshingly real environment. It implies the very equality our youth crave, to be spoken to as an adult, even for a rare moment, to be granted a grain of camaraderie.
Most people think, then, that I do it on purpose. They’re wrong.
Let me explain. I have a bad habit of being myself no matter where I go. I also have an interesting mix of social circles. My family would fall in the category of refined and affluent and readily curb their language as their ancestors have taught them. They also fall under the category of “fun” and rarely judge those who come from a rougher world. They’d be more likely to find someone’s use of profanity amusing or simply observe it with curiosity or quietly tolerate it knowing not all people are the same — which is the epitome of ‘having class’ by the way.
However, I also spend about 90 percent of my free time with a completely different crowd, and it doesn’t escape me that their influence is present. These folks would use the F-bomb in front of their own grandmother! Ex-cons, homeless vagrants, toothless cackling fat men with receding hairlines and wimpy ponytails still riding their hogs. People who have lived three or four lives before they hit their 30s. Walking miracles recovering from themselves.
Why would I understand terms like “class” and “refined,” and the fact that a laced up leather brazier does not win elections, then turn around and spend my time with the rugged, caustic users of profanity?
I’m doing everything in my power now not to use the Jesus angle.
I guess I have to admit I just like them. I feel free, free to say whatever I wish. And I don’t stop using big words for them, so why should I stop using profanity for others? I could adapt, and I suppose I do to some degree, but the bottom line is this: I have a filthy habit of just saying what I’m thinking, and it’s often something halfway intelligent, occasionally witty and from time to time peppered with offensive terms. I’ve no doubt half the authors of the classics I teach were rife with profanity and numerous scandals to boot. That just might be why they were so wise and interesting and treacherous and tragic in spite of their gifts.
Is it possible the way my speech is received says more about those offended?
Believe it or not, I’ve been the offended. I get it. When I walk down the school hallway and students all around me are using the strongest of profanity from their already limited 200-word bank, I feel accosted. I’m a teacher — I’m right here!
Tone it down for those who don’t know you. Be sensitive to the sensitive. Show respect. Call me a hypocrite if you wish; I’ve been called worse. There will always be those who take my words out of context and have a field day. They surely are righteous indeed.
Nonetheless, if you’re having a rough day and your dad didn’t come home last night and your mom was crying into her coffee as you left the house and your boyfriend texted you that “it’s over” like the coward you sensed he was, then come on in, have a seat in my classroom, grab a tissue and spill a few horrifically profane, ear-wrenching words. Know I’d take a bullet for you. Feel the rightness of knowing you’ll heal. I’ll be here all hour to help you let it go.
Kim Thompson has three sons and has been teaching high school English for 26 years, 20 of them at Stillwater schools. Her family has resided in Stillwater for six generations.