Are there any good techniques for training oneself to curse less?
December 20, 2003 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I am developing a problem with cursing, and I'd rather like to curb it before I end up making a grave social mistake. Are there any good techniques for dealing with this? [more inside]

Thus far in my life I have managed to ensure that I only do any serious amounts of cursing when nobody's around. I can tell, however, that the use of obscenities is slowly encroaching on my public self, and instead of accidentally cursing like a sailor in front of my parents, or belting out a string of foul language in a mall, I'd just like to try to put a damper on my use of bad language once and for all.
posted by Monster_Zero to Education (26 answers total)
Don't know it's right for you, but aversion therapy seemed to work for me.

As a teenager, when I was saying "like" a lot more than I would have preferred, I would slap myself whenever I caught myself saying it. It got some strange looks, and people thought I was even weirder than they normally thought I was.
posted by willnot at 11:35 AM on December 20, 2003

I got into trouble for swearing in front of some children the other day. Didn't even realise I'd done it.

We successfully curbed a chap at work from saying "mook" by forcing him to put 10p into a mook box everytime he did it. He was so addicted that by the time we cured him we had enough cash to go out and get thoroughly wasted. Hurrah.
posted by bonaldi at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2003

barring something like hypnosis isn't this a matter of just thinking before you speak... you'll have to be on extra alert in the self censorship dept. for a while, 'til your habit is broken. i swear quite a bit but so far i haven't slipped up in the wrong setting or in front of little kids.

on preview i like bonaldi's idea a lot, heh.
posted by t r a c y at 11:51 AM on December 20, 2003

I used to have the same problem. I didn't have a specific technique, but making a general effort to be aware when there are people around who may take exception and thinking about what to say (the old adage about counting to ten) helped me keep it within reasonable bounds. ;) Train yourself to be aware of it when it happens.
posted by plep at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2003

If you're about to say "shit" substitute "sugar!" (which stands for "Sugar Honey Ice and Tea"). For the f-word, say "fudge" or "foo." and so on for other words, etc etc.

You'll end up with your own little silly substitute curse vocabulary that will endear you with parents of young children everywhere.
posted by girlhacker at 11:53 AM on December 20, 2003

My last comment was slightly trollish, so heres some slightly better advice: I have two mindsets, one when around my friends, one when around family, teachers, anyone else. I only swear in the one mindset. Not quite sure how this came about, but it works very well - I've never sworn and then regretted it. Bonaldi's "swear jar" idea sounds like it could be useful as well though. On preview, I think plep has the same idea as me.
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:53 AM on December 20, 2003

I agree with the substitution bit. I love using the geeky "Some Burning Netherworld" (or SBN for short) instead of hell sometimes. The creativity of coming up with something more germain makes it fun.

Also, spend less time around computers and commuters. Nothing causes me to spit expletives like those infernal machines.

Finally, some part of language we use has to do with what we take in (if you think Skinner had anything right, anyway). Maybe a little more Jane Austin and a bit less Chuck Palahniuk in your personal environment/choices, so to speak...
posted by weston at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2003

If you're about to say "shit" substitute "sugar!" (which stands for "Sugar Honey Ice and Tea"). For the f-word, say "fudge" or "foo." and so on for other words, etc etc.

I've started saying mother-foochie, which i picked up from t r a c y's jazz musician dad, as a replacement for my favourite swear combo.
posted by zarah at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2003

With increasing frequency, I find myself growling and muttering things in unknown tongues as a substitute for cursing aloud. To the best of my recollection, this began in a purely unintentional manner, but has proven quite successful in public.

That said, you could always study orcish -- or another of Tolkein's languages -- and learn to swear accordingly. Very few people would understand such utterances, and those who do would likely be more impressed than offended.

I also find Simlish to be an entertaining source of non-profanity. Nothing like a good "crast!"
posted by Danelope at 12:29 PM on December 20, 2003

I cursed like a sailor in high school because it was the only way for my parents to stop ignoring me and listen (though it was usually to tell me to watch my language). In college I did it to get a rise out of people. I still talk like that and it's really lame, as I now notice my religous friends and friends with children recoil whenever an accidental "crap" or "jerkass" floats into the conversation.

I say "crap" like most people say "it" and "stuff". It's really hard to cut down, but the only thing I've found that works is pre-scanning what you're about to say in your head right before you say it. It requires a bit more concentration and lag in your speech though.

I think I'm *this* close to starting a "crap jar" where I'd put a buck in every time I saw it. I could probably buy a plasma screen TV after a few months.
posted by mathowie at 12:40 PM on December 20, 2003

I swear a lot. I try really hard to avoid it in polite company but I don't much care if I swear or not in "impolite" company. I force myself to use ridiculous substitution words when I want to swear and that results in 1) less accidental swearing, I pay so much attention to the "bad words" that at least I don't do it by accident and 2) people think I am amusing because I say words like unfrickingbelievable, consarnit, or whatever. Amusing substitutions will also show that you are making some sort of effort which does go along way with those horrified by vulgar speech.
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on December 20, 2003

Basically what Bonaldi said. But I imagine it's more than just the workplace, so you might want to bring all your friends in on it (Make a "lively game" out of it, to quote Dale Carnegie). Tell all your friends you're trying to stop and then make them collect a quarter from you each time. It works :-)
posted by Happydaz at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2003

This isn't exactly advice to help you stop cursing altogether, but... if you're a native English speaker among other native English speakers, try cursing in German instead of English. "Scheisse!" gives you all the pleasure and relief of speaking foul language, but sounds comical rather than harsh to the ears of others.

However, if you're just cursing to add intensifiers to your normal speech, instead of out of anger, then this advice doesn't hold.
posted by Prospero at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2003

(Matt, I've said "crap" in front of my pastor. I don't really consider it a curse word. But it does sound rather jarring when one of the kids says it.)

The only thing I can think of is to try to avoid people who curse quite a bit, at least till you have broken your habit.

Or-do you have a friend or a family member that you spend a lot of time with? Have them get on your case every time they hear you cuss. I bet at least some of your cussing is unconscious.

Hope you are successful!
posted by konolia at 2:41 PM on December 20, 2003

Your problem with cursing is just part of ageneral trend of sliding social standards. I say enjoy the ride! Damn hell ass, crap damn fart!
posted by rschram at 3:06 PM on December 20, 2003

I'm with the substitution option...mofo, fricking, etc....
posted by amberglow at 3:14 PM on December 20, 2003

What Matt said, only I use "fuck" and "cunt" and everything on down. My parents don't flinch anymore, but my niece and nephew hold me in awe.

I picked up the cursing habit when I was ten, when epithets like--God help and everyone forgive me, please--dildo, dicklick, and nigger seemed very powerful. Now most of my peer groups curse like I do, or are completedly unbothered by it, since it comes out naturally: "What the fuck?" not, like a ten-year-old who is trying to be noticed, "What the FUCK?" I dropped the three words mentioned before: they are not curse words, but insults, and so perhaps even less appropriate.

Now I have a job which requires me to get immersed into the underbelly of language, so I figure I'll never get out of the cursing hole: I'm working on a dictionary of American slang, and will be for at least the next five years. The job means I find myself not only reading about "cunt" as a verb, but perhaps looking for citations. "Bad" words become just words.

We had a meeting with nine well-known American writers a couple of months ago--names you would recognize--and we discussed felching. It was interesting to see some people blush, some people marvel at the precision of the word, and others wonder what it meant.

But despite all this, I do try to use my rough language only in the right circles. I like "fuck" too much in all its forms to needlessly wear it out before its time is up. It's like being a gynecologist: you can look at pussy all day and think nothing of it, but at home, pussy has a whole nother set of connotations.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:58 PM on December 20, 2003

Although my written output is littered with 'fuck's and 'shit's, my speech is not. In part I think that's because of years of experience teaching and public speaking, which has made me very conscious of what comes out of my mouth. Even more so where I live now, as casual obscenity is not a feature of Korean discourse, and use of it can lower your perceived status in record speed here.

In Australia, where I've spent the most time in the last decade, other than Korea, swearing is both more creative and more common than many places I've lived, but there is nonetheless a line between roguish and amusing and ockeresque, of which even as a non-aussie, it's important to be aware. So I learned a bit there.

But my first lesson was earlier : I do remember going back to my redneck northern hometown a couple of years after I'd started living the expat life and had become all cosmopolitan and sophisticated and shit like that (heh), and being completely freaked out, while at the bar with old friends and acquaintances at how much they swore, and how casually. It was fuckin' ghastly! That got me to thinking about how much I swore, too.

Go hang out at a bar where heaps of factory workers and truckers and salt 'o the earth types go, and listen in. It might scare you straight. Heh again.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:44 PM on December 20, 2003

Zero -
Another hint on the aversion therapy mentioned earlier. I've used it to break a bad habit -- but I can't recall what the habbit was now... only that I used it once.

Find a rubber band that fits around your wrist snugly but doesn't cut off any circulation. Everytime you catch yourself swearing pull the band out and snap it against the inside of your wrist. It'll sting but shouldn't cause anything perminant.

As for swearing in particular I tend to reserve it for when situations are important enough to merit a good swearword... and if you swear as infrequently as I do your friends will take notice when you suddenly start to.
posted by woil at 6:57 PM on December 20, 2003

Imagine some little 6 year old child trailing along behind you. Be embarrassed every time you curse in front of him/her. Make it a clear picture and this will have more power; imagine how he/she looks, sounds, walks etc.
posted by suleikacasilda at 8:02 PM on December 20, 2003

I'm a fan of the substitution technique, myself ... but the key is to pick words that you don't feel stupid saying. My favorite is "pigs" -- its short, has those two great consonants to explode out of your mouth, and people understand that you're swearing when you're really not. Plus, I don't feel like I'm eight.

Good luck!
posted by anastasiav at 10:30 PM on December 20, 2003

Thanks a lot guys, lots of great pointers and advice. Good to know I'm not the only person who's had to fight with this.
posted by Monster_Zero at 8:25 AM on December 21, 2003

I'll put in a (late) vote for the swear jar idea, but make the money motivating. My former coworkers laughed at me when I said I wanted to stop swearing so much. Basically, they bet me that I didn't know enough other words to make conversation. So, $1 in the jar for each curse, and they bought themselves lunch from it. After watching them eat a couple really nice lunches, I stopped swearing.
posted by donnagirl at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2003

I am a teacher and curse all the time. My solution has been to borrow from across the pond and use the term "bloody" a lot. It works well for me, though it might not work for those of you right of the Atlantic. Is it still a hanious thing to say in the UK or is that just some quaint holdover I have in my head.

My son just turned two, so cursing has to slow down around the house too. Damn it.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 9:03 AM on December 21, 2003

Worse than swearing I've noticed that when I haven't heard what someone says, instead of saying "pardon me", or "sorry?" I let out this horrific "ehhhh?" sound. I've really got to fucking stop that. Cursing I worry less about, but I go with the mindset approach. It's almost a conscious decision to slip into a mode I have that prevents me from swearing... somehow I have to train myself out of the "ehhhh?" thing, though.
posted by nthdegx at 9:58 AM on December 21, 2003 [1 favorite]

I swear like a trooper all the time, and I've never found a cure. I do change my tone in different company though. Very odd.

The strangest thing is that even in this office (porn central) there is just one word that seems to be taboo. 'Cunt'. Don't think I've ever heard it used outside of the sound studio.
posted by twine42 at 2:53 AM on December 22, 2003

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