Curb cussing? Yes? No?

True story. Seriously. When she encountered a kid on her street spewing profanity, she told him to stop. When he didn’t, she crossed the street to report this to the foul-mouth kid’s mother. Wrong move. The kid’s mother, get this, cussed her out for chastising her kid.

That paragraph sums it up. So, welcome readers to the “cussing state of America,” where we’ve sunk to new lows in common decency and basic respect.

For yours truly, if ever there was a time when I did not have the unassailable solution to a problem that exists, well this is it. The problem? Cussing. I mean adults cuss, kids cuss, and we cuss to ourselves in frustration about what to do about others doing the cussing. And much to the chagrin of a guy who’s wired to fix stuff, I don’t have a solution.

Now is it a figment of my imagination or is it true that we’re in the midst of an epidemic of cussing – AKA “profanity” or “colorful language” – these days?  If so, will someone please tell me how in the world did profanity rise from the bowels of “never say that” to a badge of honor nowadays? Did I somehow miss the memo? Yes? No?

Where once even an unintentional slip of a four-letter word would result in a slap on the wrist on one extreme, or total censorship on the other, today it seems that communications with expletives is just par for the course. Are we now at a point where profanity-free communication is a relic of the past, the property of lightweights, losers, nerds and occupants of pulpits?

In search for answers, I decided to do a quick – “Am I the only one?” – sanity check on this cussing thing and quickly found comfort in realizing that I’m a member of the “you’re not alone” assemblage of like-minded others.

Here’s what I sent them:

Seems that we’ve reached rock bottom nowadays when it comes to basic respect, where profanity has been normalized, even among kids. What are others of you seeing?

My did the floodgate open; nearly a whopping 45 on the day I sent out my “survey,” and they continue to roll in as I write this.  Some common themes emerged. Here are a select few:

“This goes hand and hand with the normalization of wearing satin bonnets, stripper inspired clothing in public and dumping and leaving trash in parking lots and on roadsides. The profanity filled stuff said in public is appalling.”  

“The thing that annoys me the most are people who drive by in cars and trucks with their windows down with loud profanity-laced music coming out.”

“Actually, I’ve decided to ignore or just remove myself people behaving badly in public because confronting them can get you physically hurt or worse.”

“I was in a store the other day and heard a woman say the word “M-F” four times in two minutes. She had a mouth like a cesspool.”

Toward the end one person expressed gratitude:

“Nice discussion but we need to figure out how to address these issues without being hurt or killed. This is the toughest issue to solve. Those we are fighting have no remorse nor see the value or care.”

What prompts one to let loose with a cuss?

Fact is that cussing tends to spring up during bursts of anger or just to let others know how “bad” we are. Undeniably, cussing can get you a black eye, a visit to a dentist or a one-way trip to the local funeral home with you sprawled out in a flower-draped coffin as the “guest of honor.”

Are there categories of cussers?

Sociologists divide swearing into three categories. (A) annoyance swearing: using swear words to provide emotional and stress relief, (B) abusive swearing to insult and offend; (C) social swearing for social bonding. They say that swearing among friends enhances camaraderie and increases trust.

Why is swearing so powerful and widespread?

One explanation, researchers say, is that “aversive conditioning,” the use of punishment during childhood to stop swearing, establishes a visceral connection between swearing and emotional response. Attention, even negative attention, can be a powerful reinforcer of behavior in young children.

How can we curb all this cussing?

Well, one logical place to start is by taking a long, hard look at the person in the mirror and replay the stuff that comes out of his/her mouth at home, while stuck in traffic or in the company of his/her “boys” or “girls.” In the same way we’ve been conditioned to snapping on seatbelts when we’re about to drive, “snap on” your lips when you get the feeling that a cuss is brewing in your mouth.

Next, try to quickly identify and size up the category of cusser you’re dealing with – the annoyance swearer, abusive swearer or social swearer and decide if you want to and how to respond. Each situation is different and may dictate a particular response, but don’t put yourself in harm’s way.

Here’s my ending note to cussers and folks who want tips on how to deal with cussers. Order Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing, a self-help book by James V. O’Connor, who founded the Cuss Control Academy. (Check to see if the costs of attending the Cuss Control Academy are covered by your insurance carrier if you/they are hopelessly addicted to chronic cussing).

In the end, are we left with a question that answers itself, that the use of profanity is just something we have to live with? Well, as American author William Faulkner once wrote, “you move a mountain one stone at a time!”  Well, can we say the same thing about curbing cussing.

Yes? No?

Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel,, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


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