Thursday, October 15, 2020


Donis here. I sometimes wish I didn't live in such interesting times. I often find myself scared and depressed, so much so that I'll purposely avoid news and social media for days at a time. My husband doesn't do this. He stays informed and takes it upon himself to inform me, as well.  I can always tell when something alarming has happened by the plethora of salty terms emanating from the den. Don't get me wrong. I don't disapprove of Don's uncivil language. He has no intention of running for Pope.

(Incidentally, when he was in his thirties, my husband informed me that forevermore he was going to be perfect in all things, but after a week he realized that he couldn't stop getting smelly feet after a run, so he gave up his quest for sainthood. But that's another story.)  

I've been known to use less than pristine epithets myself and find them extremely useful in times of stress.   In fact, this brings to mind a dear friend of mine whom I have known since my salad days at the University of Oklahoma. At the time, he was an extraordinarily innocent boy who on frequent occasions would curl your ears with the most astoundingly filthy curses. Because of his sweet face and gentle nature, the effect of this language was not nearly a shocking as it was hilarious, and ever since, for good or ill, I've had quite an affection for dirty words.

I grew up among people whose goal was to curse in the most imaginative language possible, which can really increase your vocabulary if you apply yourself. My mother was particularly good at coming up with ways to express disapproval using only G-rated words. One of her scariest curses was "I heap coals of fire upon him." The words themselves weren't as frightening as her throaty growl and the curl of her lip over her eyetooth. My father had been a Marine, and knew words that I don't understand to this day, but he had a house full of little daughters and controlled his language heroically. He often had the pee-waddin' scared out of him and wondered what in the cat-hair was going on.

When I was writing my Alafair Tucker mysteries, which take place in Oklahoma in the 1910s in a family setting, I was very careful about the language I used, since my characters wouldn't normally use profanity. The series I'm writing now is set in 1920s Hollywood, which is another story altogether. If my characters didn't curse it wouldn't be realistic. Yet I know my audience and try not to be too shocking, which means I try to find creative ways around using f-bombs and hideous racial/sexist epithets.

When I grew up and became an English major, I came to realize that this fashion of cursing is quite Shakespearian. Shakespeare manipulated the English language in such a joyously profane way in order to scorn his fellow man. There are actually several web sites devoted to Shakespearean curses. One of my favorites is The author, Chris Seidel, has created a page on which he has taken nouns and adjectives from Shakespearian curses and divided them into three columns. You take one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C, and "curse with the the best of Shakespeare." Examples follow:

Fie, you bawdy, dog-hearted malignancy!

             you rank, onion-eyed rudesby!

             you whoreson, fat-kidneyed pantaloon!

             you knarling, rump-fed moldwarp!

Have a nice day just doesn't have the same ring.


Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for the Shakespeare insult kit! A friend of mine has a coffee mug with various Shakespearean insults on it.

There's a country song called "May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" by Little Jimmy Dickens. Contains a number of creative curses.

Donis Casey said...

I remember that song! I'll add that to my repertoire.