Social Issues

learning the words: even the ugly ones

woman cursingToday’s guest post is from Dani Kelley, who writes about feminism, abuse, and recovery at Crooked Neighbor, Crooked HeartAlso, I’ve been so freaking excited about this post for a while, and I’m thrilled I get to share it with you.
“Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

The past few years, I have been on an intentional journey into freedom from the panic, rage, and fear that has been the constant undercurrent of my young life. A big part of that journey has included the freedom to look at the horrible things in life and to say with confidence and conviction, “Fuck. This. Shit.”

Profanity was not allowed when I was growing up (and at the time words like “heck,” “gosh,” “darn,” and “shut up” were included). There were always lots of reasons given, mostly in the form of Bible verses about letting no profane word come out of your mouth or letting your speech be always with grace seasoned with salt. One that always stuck out and appealed to me was that people only swear because they lack the intelligence and vocabulary to otherwise express themselves.

I call bullshit.

Another that I heard a lot (and continue to hear) is that profanity just isn’t appropriate. It isn’t very nice. It’s especially not something that good girls use when speaking.

I say, fuck that.

On some level, I’ve always understood the power of words. I remember as a young child, when a terrifying rage I couldn’t understand would boil up inside me, I would brokenly tell God that I didn’t know what the heck to do. (In my more honest moments, I would actually say hell. I’ll give you a moment to gasp and clutch your pearls.)

As a teenager and young adult, I waffled back and forth on my stance on language. Many times I would cling to my moderately impressive vocabulary and spout the “I’m too smart to swear” defense, hiding behind my classism and ableism like a child hides behind his mother’s skirts. Other times, the pain of a dozen betrayals, great and small, would overwhelm me until I swore quietly to myself (or violently to trusted friends) as a release valve.

Then there were the other times, the more dangerous times, when I used the strength of cursing to inflict pain on myself, to condemn myself for my perceived Biblically-declared depravity, filth, and worthlessness. It seemed to me that the Bible’s strongest language was reserved for sinners, to describe the depth of our evil. And so I internalized that message and adopted such language most harshly for myself, because I was convinced that I was unworthy and unclean.

(Allow me a moment to again say, FUCK. THAT. NOISE.)


Without profanity, I never had the words to deal with the horrible situations in my life and in the lives of others — the betrayals, the abuses, the heartbreaks and horrors, the ever-growing doubt about whether God was good or a monster. There simply were not Christian words strong enough to do these things justice. Instead, I made myself as numb as I could to pain, and I kept it carefully bottled inside, shared only with a few trusted friends, and only then what was acceptable to share. I hid my panic, I hid my rage, I hid my doubts, I hid the depth of the wounds that were so deep I couldn’t hide them even though I wanted to. I hid them all with my exemplary vocabulary, Christian platitudes, acceptable euphemisms, and cheap imitation curses.

But after years and years of hiding and self-destructing, it has gotten too damn hard, and I am done.

I’m not hiding the pain anymore. I’m not hiding the doubt, fear, or rage. I am describing them with the most colorful language I can muster, to paint the clearest picture I can. I am living openly and honestly and looking you straight in the eye when I do so instead of ducking my head and muttering, “His ways are higher than our ways,” or “Just trust in the Lord and everything will work out for His glory!” I am grabbing your hand and saying with confidence, “This shit is fucked, and I am so sorry, and I love you and we will get through this.”

And in all of this, the dark places are being exposed, and I can see a little more clearly, breathe a little more freely. I’m finding a smidgen of peace through this seemingly tiny thing of finally allowing the ugly words to describe the ugly things in life.

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