The seal on the milk bottle I was trying to open was proving stubborn, so I prized a little harder, being ultra careful not to make a mess, when, despite my concentration, the thing flipped in my hand and burst free, spurting milk all over my t-shirt and the infant in my arms. Unsolicited, unsummoned, a vulgar obscenity spurted from my mouth: “Drat!” I said, and felt immediately ashamed. The child giggled and licked drops from his face, wiping his face and spreading the mess . “No, don’t, doggone it,” I swore again, holding his dripping hand with my dripping hand, and he chuckled louder.
But actually – and I share this guiltily – I felt better for having cursed. Why?
Why is it that cursing bursts forth so spontaneously when we whack a thumb with a hammer or bite the inside of our lip? Or someone else bites the inside of our lip? Because it’s not just me, is it? Does it happen to you? I see rugby players on TV do it all the time. They drop a ball with the line open and … you don’t have to hear them. You know what they just said, and you don’t blame them. You’re saying it too, because that clumsy knock-on has just cost you fifty dollars.
But it works, eh. The expletive has cushioned your loss, your pain, your milky t-shirt. Your chagrin must be lanced. Better than punching a hole in the wall or kicking the cat. There’s something of a pressure relief valve in it, releasing some steam before you internally combust or drop the baby. You feel way better than you actually should – for spilling the milk or uttering the unutterable. Something in your frontal cortex (or wherever these psychologies are felt) feels vindicated, assuaged. You can mop up the milk thus pardoned. And the baby won’t tell the wife, so …
That’s the risk, though, nei? It doesn’t pay to be heard. If you cuss, and she hears it, that can usher in all sorts of implications. She thinks your agricultural vocab was purged long ago.
Or in front of the in-laws …! [Urghh. That doesn’t bear thinking about.]
If you cuss on the sports field, that’s ok. That’s accepted. But if you curse at the tattooed bikey that just cut you off on the motorway … that could have a rather sorry outcome. In fact, if we all restrained our language and gestures on the road or in the carpark we’d probably see all road rage and bar fights vanish from our streets. Perhaps herein lies the moral of this story. Restraint.
No. On reflection, there is no moral to this story. Let ‘er rip. You’ll feel so much better. If guilty. They say you shouldn’t ‘bottle it up’, so don’t. It’ll only … Hmm… bottle or curse?
Yesterday bit the inside of my lip whilst visiting the in-laws. The word rose in my bloody mouth and I all but let rip, but something in the subconscious part of my frontal cortex forswore me to silence and I did. I stifled it. Bit my tongue, so to speak. Within seconds the lip pain abated, my pulse rate slowed and I felt better. As good as I would have if I had sworn, and without the guilt. Happily I resumed chewing, concentrating now – one bite, two bites – careful now – three … re-joined the polite conversation, when … Wham! Concentration lost, molar jammed down on the existing wound.
“Crap!” I screamed. The room went silent. I dissolved on the carpet in a wet gout of shame.
Drat. You sure can’t win ‘em all.