There was a new book club in town, and I was among the chosen group of eight former soccer moms, coming together to discuss a Civil-War era novel set in Charleston.
Feeling smart in book club is never guaranteed.
But on this night, I had clever things to say, intelligent things to contribute from my vantage point as a native South Carolinian with a minor in history from Louisiana State University.
Everything was going swell.
And then, as we were making our way around the circle, catching up on the details of our lives, there came that moment, between confident and over-confident, between who you’ve always been in a social group and who you think you might want to be.
Splat. Out it came, in the middle of a story I was telling about gardening, that mother of words like no other, to sit in the space between me and seven women, a few of whom I was just getting to know.
“Ugh, the f-ing weeds this year.”
The club house went silent.
Or was that my heart?
In the year 2018, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, almost everybody says the f-word, some 64 percent of Americans.
Then why did I want to melt under the red velvet divan in the parlor where we were sipping our post-book-discussion chamomile?
Why was I engaged in a ping-pong match in my head between words of reassurance and a louder, abject brow-beating: “What is wrong with you? Where’s your filter?”
Was my self-flagellation an antiquated holdover from growing up Catholic and female in the sweet-girl South? A stark reminder of my place as once-a-mom-who-doesn’t-curse-always-a-mom-who-doesn’t-curse?
Or was I simply realizing that appropriate cursing in social groups varies from situation-to-situation, and that indeed, my filters blipped that night when they should have bleeped?
I later did some Googling to find a slew of new studies that says people who curse are, in fact, smarter: Unlike older studies that made cursers out to be ignoramuses with a limited vocabulary, turns out people who swear have the best general language ability, so says recent research out of Marist College in New York and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
People who curse are healthier. When we’re in pain, for example, cursing sends a burst of energy to help us make it through the torment, says psychological scientist Timothy Jay, author of “Cursing in America.” When we’re exercising, cursing helps divert attention, allowing us to work harder. When we’re stressed, cursing acts as an effective emotional release. When we’re socializing, cursing can help us appear more honest and authentic.
“Swearing can serve to show that we belong in a certain group, or that we are able to be ourselves and be wholly comfortable with the members of that group,” says “Psychology Today.” “If done correctly, it can also signal that we are open, honest, self-deprecating, easygoing, and barrels of fun.”
Cursing is not inoffensive to all people in all situations; the AP-Ipsos poll says 75 percent of women and 60 percent of men are bothered by profanity at least some of the time. Cursing in a group is different than slipping in the f-word to one close friend over coffee at Starbucks. Cursing can still smack of disrespect, ignorance and poor taste, especially (still) when it’s a woman doing the bomb drop, says science and technology communicator Emma Byrne in “Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language.”
I must have felt this as soon as the word came out of my mouth that night. Whether I actually offended anybody else at book club or not, I offended myself. I inadvertently stepped past my own comfort zone. My only saving grace was for somebody to follow suit. Which nobody did.
Nor did they ban me from book club or give me a Scarlett A to wear on my Patagonia sundress.
The moment passed with little effect, it seems, except now I know I will never again test a new social construct with the f-expletive.
The group even agreed to my hastily suggested book selection for this month, a bland, navel-gazing novel about a woman grieving over her mother’s death mostly by having intimate exchanges with a variety of men that included two ex-husbands and a married lover.
It was unanimous: My book selection totally sucked.
On that word, at least, we could all agree.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy