The Unique Art of Cursing

Constitution Freedom of Speech Swear words

My cousin Kofi who lives in Detroit had been trying to reach me for days. Our schedules did not allow me to call at a reasonable time. I had not been able to keep several promises to call him either. Since I knew he was an early bird, I decided to call him one Friday morning on my drive to the hospital. Note that I set off for work around 6:15 am.

I called up Siri. She responded.
I stated my cousin’s name and asked her to call him. She replied, “Calling Kofi D.”
Well, I had forgotten that the number I had saved for Kofi was an old one. I would be reminded of that shortly.
The voice that came over the speaker was not Kofi’s voice. It was not even that of a man. From the sound of the first sentence, I had just woken up a woman not called Kofi, and she sounded pissed.

“Kofi, Nana’adzie”
Who the fuck is this? Do you know what the fucking time is?”
“Ma’am, I am trying to reach my cousin Kofi.”
“Your fuckin cousin ain’t here. Do you know what time it is?”
“Sorry, ma’am, but I think I may have the wrong number.”
“The fuck you have!”
“I apologize!”
“Why the fuck would you wake up someone this fucking early on a fuckin Friday morning? What the fuck’s wrong with you? Can’t you fuckin read? Now you have fuckin messed up my sleep fuck!”

Then she hung up. I burst into laughter immediately. I had been holding that back as she cursed me out that morning. I was not offended at all. I had interfered with her sleep and deserved to be cursed out. What made me laugh was the language. It was how effortlessly she strung the curse words together, the tone and cadence of her voice that conveyed her piss-off-ness, and how the expletive-laden outburst had a meter like a poem.
I was fascinated. It was a skill I just had to admire. An art form even.

As I drove along, it struck me that most swear words have four letters and are monosyllabic. I wondered if that was happenstance or a plot by the Curse Gods to make them easier to reel out.
Later that weekend, I did the obligatory search for why most curse words have four letters and are monosyllabic. The reasons were as varied and the theories profound. From the fact that most of these words were of the more proletarian Germanic and not of noble French stock, to the fact that they were words used by commoners to express frustration, to the thought that they reflected basic human processes and actions, one thing stayed the same – they were easy to reel out and had an unmistakable message. The message conveyed the fact that the user was pissed off.

And why not?

There is a whole vocabulary for love – poems, love songs, plays. There are myriad words to exhort and encourage. Thousands to describe bravery, victory, and success. Even used to depict war and death.
So why not a few for those times when we lose it? For those moments when we descend into the basement where anger and fury reign? Where we allow our better selves to take a backseat and unleash our animalistic tendencies in four-letter, monosyllabic bursts of indignation?

I maintain that those times deserve their own language too, and its words must be easy to use and master. It must be a language where the words can be thrown together with normals ones to get the message across. We all grow up being taught the wisdom not to lose our temper and always try to keep the composure. We are encouraged not to use foul language and be decent. And yet, we all end up with a stash of curse words in our vocabulary that may escape unannounced now and then.

After all, we are all human and live in a world that is imperfect, exhausting, and sometimes downright frustrating. We live in a world where a random guy wakes you up at 6:20 am looking for his cousin who has not had that number for years. We drive on roads where someone can cut you off or jump a red light. There are even times where customers or even colleagues push you past your limits.
In times like those, we may conveniently forget what our mothers taught us never to do and let them out. In those times, wisdom and reason flee and we may momentarily even forget the consequences of an expletive-laden outburst. We throw caution to the wind and let them stream – those mainly four-letter, monosyllabic words.

Curse if you must but do me a favor as you go expletive. Like that woman on the phone that morning, let it flow with a tone, cadence, and meter that match your piss-off-ness. Then and only then do you elevate the process to the art form that it is.

The Art of Cursing Out!

Nana Dadzie Ghansah is an anesthesiologist who practices in Lexington, Kentucky


A physician providing primary medical care to patients across the lifespan