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In Praise of the F Word: Four Letters That Help Me Cope

Helen Darling has no qualms about dropping the F Bomb. She feels she's earned the right after a demanding career, cancer, and now the pandemic. So just TRY washing her mouth out with soap.

NEXTTRIBE FAVORITE Editor’s Note: On Feb. 15th, NextTribe marked its sixth anniversary. To celebrate this month, we are sharing our favorite articles from the 1,500 plus we’ve published so far. Helen Darling, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, has some choice words for us about her choice word.


Every year I give up cussing for Lent. Yep, cussing. For Lent. Strange to blend cussing with Lent, isn’t it? I use those 40 days and nights to force myself to forge new habits. Sometimes I get lazy and lean on less-than-acceptable language, so I need an incentive to tap into the dormant part of my brain and summon some less-colorful, more-intelligent vocabulary.

This year, however, COVID-19 altered the Lenten landscape with the whole fam damily forced (read: asked) to shelter in place for who knows how long. Our teenage sons would much rather social distance from their parents than their peers. And don’t even get me started on the whole working-from-home strain on a marriage. So I was conflicted about my traditional denial of my foul pleasure.

It seemed unwise to give up such a harmless, albeit dirty, little habit at this trying point in time. On the other hand, perhaps this was the very year I should step up and shut up. I mean it’s really not that hard—well, except for that one word: the F word. God, I would really miss the big F. I’m almost embarrassed to type that, but it’s true.

To me, the F word is like a rite of adult passage, a prize you win by making it to a certain age in one piece despite the sh..tuff  life hurled at you. And I have survived being the invisible fifth out of six siblings, the music business, 28 years of marriage, childbirth . . . twice (once without an epidural, thank you very much), small-town Texas, and cancer. And now I have to get through family f-ing quarantine? I f-ing own the F word. I am powerful and righteous. It’s my delicious vice, and I make no apologies for it. It feels so good to say it, all those hard consonants packed into a four-letter word.

“The Mutha of All Curse Words”

And it’s a chameleon-like word. It takes on meaning from the words that accompany it, the tone used to utter it, and, perhaps, whether you’re naked or not. (Ha! With teenage sons back at home, my nudity is not an option.)  

Seriously though, tell a joke. Now tell it again and throw the F word in there a couple of times. I don’t care what my mom says, it’s funnier. Growing up, the word “butt” was a no-no in our house. I never imagined that one day I would have the guts to green light the F word.

It’s like the older I get, the braver I get. (Some say odder. I prefer braver.) Besides, I’ve always had a rather weak editor in my head anyway; things that pop in my brain have a way of popping back out in public. But now that I’ve hit 52 like a freight train, I feel like I have nothing to lose by being myself wherever and whenever I please. And sometimes myself wants to say the F word. A lot.

And why shouldn’t I? I’m no longer hosting playdates for my kids with women I hardly know but still want to make like me. Like most moms, when my kids were young, I swore off swearing, but they rode the bus and their neighborhood buddies did too. One day my 5-year-old son was sitting at the table playing with Legos, when out of nowhere he spells the F word and asks me what it means. Apparently the neighbor kids taught him the name game and suggested he rhyme Chuck. I bit through my tongue to stifle my laughter and said, “Well, it’s the mutha of all curse words.” I then added that it would be inappropriate for him to use going forward. But now my kids are teenagers, and—who am I kidding—they know more profanity than I do. WTF! It’s time to lean into my age and be comfortable in my ever-wrinkling skin. Yep, the F word is my friend. My B-F-ing-F.

Read More: Why Am I So Angry? The Causes—and Surprising Benefits—of Female Rage

Sure, It’s Not for Everyone

Look, I realize that the F word isn’t for everyone. I mean, what is? And I try to be sensitive, respectful, and careful when I use it, but I use it nonetheless. Frankly, there are times in a descriptive moment that no other word can quite express my feelings. F it! My goodness, just typing it in code feels f-ing fantastic. Talk about cathartic! Possibly better than f-ing sex, but now I’m being redundant.

So right now, some of you might be offended, appalled, and perhaps embarrassed (i.e., mom) and are about to go find a different article here on NextTribe, and that’s fine. But some of you kindred spirits are coyly smiling because you know you feel the same f-ing way. You may not even say the word out loud, but you’re thinking it. Aren’t you? Good for you!

So I’m outing myself by reaching out to all you closet cussers and letting you know you are not alone. Even in this era of social distancing, we can stand together six feet apart. Let me hear you say it with me loud and proud. “Helen, these are hard times that call for hard choices.” Tell me that this one year, I had every right to say, “Give up cussing for Lent? F#$* no!”

Hi, my name is Helen Darling, and I’m an F word fangirl!

A version of this story originally appeared in May 2017.

By Helen Darling


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