I'm doing my morning blogreading before and I come across this story about Joe Scarborough dropping an f-bomb on MSNBC this morning. John Cole has the video and the background story, which seems to be that Rahm Emanuel curses a lot. All the crap going on in the world and they're talking about how a Congressman curses a lot. Some things even Obama can't change, I guess.
But it reminded me of the first time I ever said a version of that word. I was seven, and we had just moved to Big Branch. Louisiana, and I was playing with my neighbor, a kid named Bobby Covel. And as kids do, we were trying to impress each other with our secret knowledge--his was the worst bad word he had ever heard, and it sounded like nothing he'd ever heard before. It was a slurred, phonetic version of "motherfucker."
The rest of the afternoon, we ran around in the woods, tangled, tussled, and yelled, whispered, and slurred to an even greater degree this magic word we'd come across. It became a game to see how quickly we could say it, how much we could compress those 12 letters into a single unit of nonsense (because we had no idea what it meant). It was an alien word, and it had power because of its strangeness to us.
And then I sat down at dinner with my parents, and because I had absolutely no sense of the power of that word, I let it slip, and I immediately knew something was wrong. I remember my mother saying "Do you know what that word means?"
I said "No."
"Well then maybe you shouldn't say words when you don't know what they mean."
I've never forgotten that lesson. I keep a dictionary at my desk here at home, and one on my office desk. There's still another on my laptop's dashboard, and I have access to the OED online through my job, and I use them all regularly.
And I drop f-bombs when appropriate.