When I was a little MC in 1970s Houston, my mom’s most pissed-off expression was “cotton picking.” Even the dictionary pronunciation guy says it with relish, right?The usual formulation was that we ought get [our] cotton-picking hands off something. I guess it was effective because it scared the fool out of us. The phrase had the full force of a swear while not registering to us as obscene. That’s a freebie.Or was it? At the time I was hipper to Shrinky-Dinks and Henry and Ribsy than I was to class analysis and social transformation, but it has since occurred to me that cotton-picking is kind of, you know, a slur against rural laborers from precisely the same area whence my family originates: the intersectional bits of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. If you were a poor person of the region, you were likely to pick cotton. WTF, mom?
If we’d had YouTube, I could have pointed out that if I had cotton-picking hands, so did Johnny Cash, whose 8-tracks alternated with George Jones and Don Williams in our Chevy van, so what was wrong with that? Then again, kids those days didn’t have YouTubers coaching them to talk smack. Mine does. That’s part of the reason I need to settle on a non-profane swear that really feels satisfying to utter. One that isn’t goofy. One with consonance and a really awesome mouthfeel. One I can yell at kids who won’t get off my lawn. I guess I could go ahead and cuss, but I (1) must attempt to model self-control in the household and workplace and (2) want to aim higher for myself. The amount of profanity coming out of my mouth is indirectly proportional to how managed my mental-health issues are.Swearing can actually be pain-relieving, research suggests. But you can get the same and possibly better relief from using a “near” swear (or a less overused word). Also, near swears fascinate me, and I like collecting them. Examples:When the Nazis demanded surrender at the Battle of the Bulge, commanding General Anthony McAuliffe famously declared, “Nuts!” It has the full force of a swear but did not register as obscene. However, the Germans were apparently confused by the remark.My old college housemate’s adorable mom from Connecticut would say “nerts,” but that sounds like delicious candy, perhaps a mashup of Nerds and Certs.Annoying BSG nerds say “frakking."In our house, I’m trying to break in “muffin-fluffer.” (Also “muffin-fluffing.”) It’s a cognate of “monkey-fighting,” as in “snakes,” but is proving to be more workable so far.
I like that it’s a kind of ribald -- that’s not just me, right? -- but at the same time kind of cute, because muffins are cute and fluffiness is cute also. And it’s active, the way picking cotton or fighting monkeys is an activity. I’m sure it has also dreadful connotations on a certain user-generated dictionary to which I will not link, but if that’s a dealbreaker, I might reach the point of communicating through mime.