Bad Words


How she envied him! this new-found friend of hers. The way he cursed. Walking before the big mirror in her parents’ room, bony chest — almost as flat as his — puffed up with the try­ing, trying hard to imitate him.. . Miranda thought, maybe she would acquire his knowledge, his way of cursing.

Starting with words like damn and blast, Miranda was slowly working her way up her list of bad words — from the least to the most bad. They all shared a common quality — they were all too heavy for her tongue to lift up — so her mother pro­nounced regularly. “Prick! Shit!” Miranda looked at herself in the mirror; the smile that was reflected there was one of deep satisfaction. Her mother was wrong she could, would, and did lift the weight of these words, these forbidden words with her child tongue, the secret pleasure all the stronger for being visible in the mirror as she sharpened her mouth around them all. “Practice makes perfect,” her father had always told her — practice to be perfect, in control as he was — and her friend — of words.

When she got to “fuck” she paused, took a deep breath and mouthed the word silently then out loud. Her heart beat loudly now as she replaced the “u” with an “o” — “fock.” She felt the sharpness and power of the word — suddenly and involuntarily she shivered. Was it fear or excitement? She didn’t know — probably both — but didn’t care.

Now came the best — the baddest of them all. Whenever Miranda got to fuck she knew she had crossed a line — as pal­pable to her as it was invisible. A different world awaited her with the next word. A threatening word in many ways. For a long time she could never say it out loud. As with all the other words she had begun by mouthing it. The times when she was lucky enough to practice before the mirror as she was now, she thought she looked pretty stupid opening and closing her mouth on the word –like a fish gasping for air. But mouthing this word suggested nothing of its power, and for a long timr it remained at this stage, not even being able to whisper it as she had the others. The taboo against it was absolute –almost. …

Maybe only mothers had cunts because that was the only way she had ever heard it used. Never your sister’s cunt, or your grandmother’s cunt. Only your mother’s cunt. And she had wanted both to cover her ears and stretch them wide to take in the sound of these words. Would she have a cunt when she grew up? She didn’t dare ask her mother. Did she have one now? Was it something that came with having children? Once left on her own she got a mirror to explore exactly where she knew the word referred to — except she wasn’t a mother — not yet anyway. As she explored she said the word soft soft to herself, mouthing it, mashing it between her teeth, tasting it, whispering it — looking to see if she changed as she said it.

In her house there was no word for what Miranda explored with her fingers. Baby girls had pat-a-cakes, or muckunzes or pum pums. As you grew older, the safety of those soft domes­tic words disappeared leaving behind a thing unnamed, referred to only by the neutral pronoun: “Have you washed IT yet?” Or, sometimes, “Have you washed yourself yet?” She knew full well that the self referred to was not the whole self, but only that tiny part of the self that somehow became your entire self. If you were a woman. Until it became a mother’s cunt — harsh, jagged, the words intended to cut to the quick the man at whom it was aimed.

Lips would curl savagely around the words, “Your” shape the words with a blunt and rough-hewn style replacing the “t” and “h” with a double “d,” “mudder,” only to let fly the deadly missiles that home in and explode — “Yuh mudder cunt,” in the man’s face, dripping the bitter sweet sticky mess all over him. Miranda had seen grown men grow murderous at this insult. She had seen her brother come home in tears because of this.

It was only men she had heard saying these words. Did women curse it too, or was it only a male curse? And what did women say — “You father’s prick”? Somehow it didn’t sound as bad as mother’s cunt. She knew all the words now and cock or father’s cock just didn’t count if you really want­ed to curse. Put together a bad word like sucker to make cock­sucker the word become really bad, but it didn’t, at least in her books, come close in badness to “the word.”