I try to do the right thing in life. My overarching goal is to treat people well.  I listen to public radio and go to bed early. I even pick up litter! But there’s an area where I’m not so good. It’s my language. I periodically curse. And not only do I swear too often, but I’m horribly embarrassed to admit that I overuse the granddaddy expletive of them all: the f-word. While this can be kinda fun in private, in the wrong setting it’s mortifying. After horrifying myself in public a couple of times this year, I’ve decided that I need to clean up my act. I need to get rid of my potty mouth.

It All Starts at Home

In the hierarchy of swearing, the f-word is at the top of the food chain. It gets peoples’ attention, especially when it comes out of the mouth of a blond, blue-eyed do-gooder like me.

In private, when my husband and I talk about current events, we sometimes use the word. When we discuss stupid economic decisions, it’s perfect!

Using this word feels like freedom with a healthy dose of rebellion. It’s driving a convertible with the top down (which I wouldn’t do – too much sun exposure). It’s having a martini on a Friday night. (I don’t do that either – alcohol makes me sleepy.) It’s my way of living on the wild side.

Last month we were out for dinner with some fairly new friends. He’s a successful developer and in that world, this word must get tossed around like a ping pong ball. After a shocking story, I said the dreaded word at just the right time. The friend gasped with disbelief, “Jennifer, I’ve never heard you use that word before! I thought you were perfect.” Um, no. Conscientious, yes. Perfect, no. Not even close.

Public Embarrassment

The problem with using this word privately is that it sometimes slips out in public. In some settings, saying this word is HIGHLY inappropriate. But I’ve done it. More than once, in fact.

I was in a meeting this year with some well-mannered and polite folks. They shared some news with me that was shockingly disappointing. Much to my horror, the f-bomb fell out of my mouth. We all looked at each other with wide-eyed disbelief. I was mortified and quickly apologized. I asked them to not put that in the minutes! It was horrifying, but a tiny bit funny too. We tittered. It was a rare exception, I don’t talk that way, right?

But maybe I do. About 6 months later, I was with the same group and the same thing happened. But this time, it wasn’t funny. Nobody chuckled. It was crass and embarrassing. Red-faced, I wanted to crawl under the table and hide. Because I had done it before, I couldn’t pass it off as a random occurrence. Instead, it was an inappropriate pattern. My inappropriate pattern.

Obviously, I’m learning that what I say in private bleeds into what I say in public. There’s no way to draw a line between the two. In unguarded moments, the language I’m used to using comes out, regardless of where I am. It’s impossible to censor myself 100% of the time.

A New Habit

Call me risk-averse, but I need to fix this. I’d like to avoid future public embarrassment.

Maybe using this word is just a bad habit. I’ve had some horrible habits in the past that I’ve kicked. Back in the day, I couldn’t get through the morning without a Diet Coke. I also remember when a day wasn’t worth living without my (large) nightly bowl of ice cream. I’ve dumped those habits and don’t miss them one bit.

Perhaps I could do the same thing with this word. I like using it sometimes, but if I stopped, maybe I wouldn’t miss it.

If I’m no longer saying this word, I better think of some alternative phrases. They need to be ready and handy so I can replace my bad habit with a good habit. How about:

“Bummer.”

“Oh no, that’s awful!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“No way.”

I don’t know… These seem boring. They sound like a weak exchange for what I really want to say. It’s like telling somebody craving chocolate to just eat an apple.

But I’m going to try and change. I’m motivated by my fear of using the word in public (again).

The F-Word Detox

I decided to quit using the word cold-turkey. This could be a detox. After I’ve detoxed, maybe I won’t want to use it so much.

On my first day of abstaining, I used it twice at home. Both times it just slipped out as an exclamation. This might be harder than I thought.

Days 2-5, I didn’t say it at all. Maybe I had already kicked this habit! I guess I’m a fast learner! When I heard the word now, it sounded jarring. Perhaps I was getting sensitized to its ugliness. This must be a good sign.

Then on Day 6, I was trying to impress my husband with how stern of a dog owner I could be. In a deep voice, I jokingly imitated a drill sergeant dog trainer and told my dog to stop messing around. Instead of the word “messing,” I said you-know-what. As soon as I said it, I doubled over and shrieked with horror! How could I have said it again? I had made such progress! But it was still there, lurking, waiting to come out in an unguarded moment.

My bad word diet continued. On days 6 and 7, I was back in the saddle.

My detox goes on. Eventually, the word will disappear from my regular vocabulary. And once it’s no longer a habit, I will save it for very, very special occasions when simply no other word will do. Maybe I’ll use it twice a year or so. Its scarcity will make it even more valuable and shocking.

In the meantime, I’ll probably make some more mistakes. Let’s pray that they are in private. And when I do slip up, it will be a reminder that I’m, I mean, nobody, is perfect.