You are like the scribe to my soul, Preeti. I've never felt more seen.

To this day, I have never heard my mom swear. My dad's favorite road-rage expression was the Bangla equivalent of "piglet." While growing up in Kolkata, I was never specifically taught about Bangla swear words, whether or not to use them. I had to learn them—the BC/MC/*C kind and various anatomical descriptions—from my friends in the locality or at school, but never felt at ease using them.

In my mind, I have always justified this unease by acknowledging that nearly all of these expressions were straight-lifted from Hindi or English, that these weren't, you know, my language. What many people, contemporary Bengalis included, don't know or realize is that Bangla has for long had a rich tradition of extremely rude and unpleasant swear words and insults. In fact, it used to be a separate genre of literary and artistic expression. Sadly, pulling those insults out of literature didn't quite work because no one else around me could understand them.

In Delhi, where I spent nearly a decade of my adult life, I would inadvertently swim in a sea of the BC/MC/*C kind of swear words—as well as the ubiquitous "Shit!"—used unfetteredly and sprinkled liberally upon every conversation.

It wasn't until I moved to the US that I discovered the joy of fuck, an amazingly versatile expletive that can be used as a noun, verb, modifier, subject, object, and so forth. Life has never been so smooth and joyful before, and fucker has entirely supplanted all my other expressions for certain drivers with whom I am forced to share the road.

I do think what makes fuck and shit so effective as expressions is the plosive sounds that initiate them. The harshly expelled breath is just perfect for certain situations.

What I would NEVER understand, though, is the inordinate amount of pearl clutching I see in the US around fuck and other swear words. To put it succinctly, I fucking hate the use of the cutesy asterisk in f*ck and sh*t and stuff. It makes them more profane somehow to my mind.

That said, I shall never forget the day when my mother asked me, "What does the word fuck mean?" Ah, the sweet, sweet innocence of old people...

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Wannabe storyteller in science. Graduate of John Hopkins Science Writing MA program.

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Kausik Datta

Wannabe storyteller in science. Graduate of John Hopkins Science Writing MA program.