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...



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.