Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Curse Me Please: Becoming a lady sailor

Motherof[bleep], how should I start this effin' piece?

Though this is not the stance that I always employ when starting an article, cursing has become a regular guest in my daily vocabulary. "You've been Americanized, my friend," they say. "So much for being Asian, huh?" another would chime in. "Be a girl, will ya?" is frequently said when I'm back home. Yes, my mouth is as filthy as Thamrin Square after the flood of 2013. And yes, I have yet to abstain from the sailor's curse.

Hi! I am a young Indonesian lady and I swear like a sailor.

Having sworn and cursed for years, I've realized societal patterns that may not emerge if I were not as crude with words. 1) To curse is to be a man, 2) To curse it to be a Westerner, and 3) To curse is to be honest. Though my honesty is questionable, I surely am not a man, either biologically or emotionally, and I am not a Westerner, despite my fair skin and tendency to become lobster red under the friggin' sun.

Facial expression = Curse word

In previous posts, I have spoken about geographical instability, whereby, I move from one continent to the other at least twice a year. With that comes a jarring blend of cultural ambiguity and uncertainty. As a result, I find myself flustered for at least two weeks out of the entire year. In this short, yet significant, window of time, I force myself to readapt to the culture and recall of the appropriate social cues. "Only hand over things with your right hand," I'd mutter to myself in one country and remind myself, "Don't say you're sorry!" in another country. Context matters, especially when it comes to place and time.

Profanity is particularly apparent in Western civilization. Though, it exists in Eastern cultures, it is not as regularly used or acceptable. For instance, if I were to swear in Jakarta, I will either have to do it amongst my young male friends or in the darkness of my own room, as the computer illuminates my face. However, I have been known to swear in front of an entire classroom, as well as in front of my professor. Of course, it is imperative to take into account that at Sarah Lawrence, at least, professors curse in front of students and amongst each other all the time. Yes, they'd apologize, but after awhile it becomes second nature.

Same goes for the media. In Indonesia, celebrities rarely curse on camera, whether they are being interviewed or they are acting. In the U.S., guests have been known to curse on particular TV shows. Certain TV networks are also free to air curse words. Let's put it this way, a system has been set up to allow swearing on air.

Alright, who cares about cultural differences and the institutionalization of curse words, bottom line is, why do you curse?
        Well, truth be told, I started cursing in high school. Profanity opened a very niche door that allowed me to express particular feelings, whether it was skepticism, pain or immense joy. Most of the time, swear words were employed to display extreme emotions. For instance, "This ice cream is bitchin'" means this ice cream is very delicious. Or when someone asks me about my chemistry test score, I'd say, "Go to hell-lah! My test score is sh*tty." Yes, sometimes I add -lah or -y to my profane words, which is definitely not a representation of my love for neighboring country.

Where did you learn your first curse word?
        Now, here's a funny story. The first swear word I had ever learned was "Sh*t!" I was in Singapore on a fifth grade field trip when I pointed to the ground and asked what it was. My teacher looked to me and said "S-H-I-T". As a ten year old I had no clue what that meant, then I figured it out and the rest was history.

Could be a bitch with its crap bag!

What's the most important thing about swearing?
       Let me begin by saying that this is not a particularly constructive question. To me, it essential to understand the true meaning of a swear word. If you have the time, do search its history, as well. For instance, don't call your girlfriend "bitch", because Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie used to call each other that. At the very least, if you do call each other "bitch", please be aware that it meant female dog.
       Another example would be the phrase "Go f*ck yourself". In high school, I had an entire problem with that phrase because of its exact meaning. For boys, especially, the phrase just refers to a regular, even daily, activity. There's no significance in saying it, other than pointing out your anger and ones' existing tendency to fulfill his/her sexual desires.
      In high school, most of my friends, especially boys, would curse at the teachers using the F-word and I'm left wondering if they really want to act that out with these particular teachers. I mean, wouldn't that be disgusting? By understanding the true meaning and even the origin of a word, you are able to use it in the correct way. And, at the end of the day, if you decide to use it incorrectly, you are able to do so consciously.

What are other interesting aspects of swearing?
      Studies show that swearing can actually alleviate pain. Though it is not advisable to curse whilst giving birth, some mothers have testified that cursing helps them get through the ordeal of childbirth. Apparently, using swear words leads to the production of certain hormones that helps us withstand pain. However, the effectivity of swearing plateaus as you reach a certain point. As a result, the more swearing you do, the less impact swearing has in alleviating pain.

Multiple meaning has been placed on swearing. On the one hand it has become an art form, a source of humor and a way to relieve pain, on the other it could be interpreted as a decay in civilization and a lack of self- and mutual respect. Stereotypically, swearing is often linked to masculinity and Western society. In the past, it is also identified as a marker for lower social economic status and lower education. However, cursing, like many things in life, has evolved to become acceptable in certain societies and taboo in others. Some bonds are created on profanity, while others are broken by it.

I don't believe that there is one correct stance on the act of swearing, instead it is a personal decision. Of course, we have to account for the consequence, whether it is the risk that your child's first words will be the S-word or the F-word, or the possibility of being fired for reckless behavior. Realize that we are not alone in this world and profanity can cause a range of social responses. Moreover, it can impact different people in various ways.

Though this is not a public service announcement, I will say this: please swear cautiously and consciously!

*Author owns rights to the photos above

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