I always say that I learned profanity from Eddie Murphy, and that is mostly true. I remember a slumber party when I was 9 or 10, at which, once the parents had gone to bed, our hostess showed us not only "Raw" but also most of "Delirious" (and, later, part of "Porky's 2," although most of that was just confusing).
And it's true that Eddie Murphy was a mighty influence on my use of profanity, since in those two comedy shows, curse words are as the brush to an artist working on a canvas. But I also learned when I went to summer camp one year and the first day I met a kid on the swings who swore like the proverbial truck driver. I think I was eight years old. And I thought, Whoa, kids can swear? Like it hadn't occurred to me before then that kids' mouths' could actually form the words, I guess.
Neither of my parents were big cursers when I was growing up. Indeed, for many years I was utterly oblivious to profanity, even when it seems my peers were well aware of it. But I do remember, vividly, the day I learned the word "fuck."
The story is famous within my family (and slightly traumatic for me): It was an incident in kindergarten in which I got in trouble for cursing by accident.
I was sitting at a circular table with several of my classmates, and we were all coloring the same picture of a man walking a dog (THIS IS HOW SCARRED I AM, I REMEMBER THE PICTURE WE WERE COLORING). One of my classmates decided we should rhyme words with "dog." So we did. Many of the words were made up out of whole cloth as we worked our way through the alphabet, but whatever.
THEN somebody suggested we rhyme words with "duck." I remain convinced this was an evil plan on the part of my more world-weary peers to trick me into swearing, because when I said, gleefully, "FUCK!" thinking I was making up another nonsense word, they all exchanged satisfied glances and started going, "Ooooooo, you're in trooouuubbblllllle...." Then one of them ratted me out to the teacher, who pulled me aside and asked me to tell her what word I had said.
I knew I had done SOMETHING horribly wrong but was totally baffled at what it was. When I SOBBED -- SOBBED AND WAILED -- and insisted I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I HAD SAID (I had legitimately forgotten the word I'd thought I'd made up by then) she asked again, and eventually she got really mad at me. Given that, like many kindergarteners, I worshipped my teacher, I was made so inconsolable by her anger that my dad had to come and pick me up, which he for his part found very funny. At home he explained that "bad words" are a thing that exists and that "fuck" was one of them and that kids aren't allowed to say "fuck."
This was a memorable introduction. And a few short years later I met that kid at summer camp and started cursing like it was my job and the rest, as they say, is fucking history.
YOUR TURN: do you even remember where you learned about bad words? Did you ever get in trouble for it as a kid? Are you big on cursing today or do you, like my dad always tells me, think that the overuse of profanity is unnecessary given your (i.e., my) impressive vocabulary?