“Cuss Control” Is Like Spanx For Your Brain

The rule of thumb is to never swear at a person with the ability to break your thumb.  It’s also unwise to swear at your mother, your employer, the person you sleep with on a regular basis, and anyone who appears to be heavily armed.

The past seven years of being a parent have brought with them an epic struggle for me to stop swearing…or at least, to stop swearing so much.

Blame it on my east coast upbringing, my barely-concealed aggressive nature, or just a character flaw, but I have a pretty serious potty mouth.  It is not surprising, if you know me in person, to hear me drop an f-bomb in casual conversation.  When I worked in the entertainment industry, a foul mouth was practically a job requirement.  I fit right in.

But curses are much less funny and cool when they come out of a child’s mouth, so in an effort to clean up my language so that I could be a better role model as a parent, I actively started swearing less when I first became pregnant back in 2004.  I have had my ups and downs with this project, and I haven’t completely cleaned it up, but I have gotten better.  Still, my 7- and 5-year-old boys have been known to scream out GODDAMMIT from time to time.  I’m a work in progress.

With this effort in mind I recently read “Cuss Control:  The Complete Book on How To Curb Your Cursing.”  It’s a yellow book with the title in bright red letters.  Having this lying around, or reading it in public, led to raised eyebrows on more than one occasion, if not outright pointing and laughing.  (You know who you are.)  The book’s author, James V. O’Connor, is a public relations professional, and an old-school conservative person.  His “guide” consists mainly of reminders that your use of offensive language betrays you as uneducated, uncouth, or unhappy.  Or all three.  And his tips for getting rid of the bad words from your vocabulary boil down to one command:  relax.

Sigh.  If only it were that easy.

Through his anecdotal history of language and interviews with people who talk about swearing, O’Connor seems to simply state that cussing is a bad thing and you should stop it.  There is no bibliography and there are many lists of less-dirty synonyms for  offensive words.  O’Connor doesn’t present expert evidence in favor of or time-tested tricks for how to rid yourself of the knee-jerk swearing you rely on, or the stream of invectives you commonly spew when you are very angry.  His “suggested procedures” are all about changing your attitude and include things like “Think Positively,” “Form a Support Group,” and “Plan Ahead,” which all sound like dieting advice to me.  His tips might work for you, but I just didn’t find them useful in my own life.

I’ll admit it – that’s what I was looking for.  A manual.  A step-by-step brainwashing, in a good way.  I already agree with O’Connor that heavy swearing makes a person, especially in professional or parenting situations, look bad.  (Don’t get me wrong – plenty of my favorite writers use offensive language all the time, and I still do myself, but I have seen a pattern in the things I like to read and in how I edit my writing – swearing in writing is usually only effective if it is used wisely and sparingly.)  So I didn’t need him to convince me that I needed to change.  I just didn’t feel like he gave good enough advice about how to do it.

Still, I have found myself thinking about “Cuss Control” when I hear myself swear in conversation, and indeed when I am writing and the f-bombs pop up organically, so that I quickly move to the backspace key and take them out unless they really help to make my point.  I have noticed that when I am in public and talking to a friend, I cringe ever so slightly (or obviously) when that friend swears loudly during our conversation.  I regret it when I let a spontaneous curse word slip if I am surprised, in pain, or suddenly angry.  All of those things mean I’m moving in the right direction.  After all, the first step towards improvement is recognizing that I have a problem, right?

So maybe that is how Cuss Control really has helped.  Without effective steps I could take to solve my problem, it insinuated its judgement of my character into my subconscious, so that O’Connor has become like the angel on my shoulder, shaking his head every time I swear.  I suppose that’s better than nothing.

I received a free copy of this book to facilitate this review.