A Crash Course on Mormon Cursing

Angry young woman glaring at the camera in a depiction of rage as shown by the hand-drawn diagram of a bolt of lightning and
Angry young woman glaring at the camera in a depiction of rage as shown by the hand-drawn diagram of a bolt of lightning and thunder on the chalkboard alongside her

There is a fond story of the former prophet Spencer W. Kimball being wheeled into the hospital for heart surgery and hearing one of the orderlies cursing using Christ's name. He put a hand on the man's arm and politely asked him not to swear that way because Christ was his dear friend and it hurt him. The orderly cleaned up his language immediately, and President Kimball went into the surgery and came out of it well.

I remember when I was eight years old, surrounded in New Jersey by non-Mormon adults and children who swore without a thought, and I swore once at home when my father was around. I was immediately treated to my mouth being washed out with soap and a long lecture on why I was not supposed to swear, from being a "light in the darkness" as my father felt strongly was my responsibility as a Mormon living among Mormons, to not "defiling the temple of Christ" which I was by using disgusting, filthy words. If you know any Mormons, the thing that you probably noticed first about them, even before they refused a cup of coffee or a drink of alcohol, it was probably the fact that they didn't ever use even casual swear words.

My parents moved us to Utah when I was ten, and there I became so used to the Mormon habit of not swearing that even into my twenties when I was in graduate school, I struggled with books and movies that I was required to watch/read for my studies that had bad language in them. Violence rarely bothered me, but sexual innuendo and curse words set off a whole series of bells ringing in my head. I cringed when I met other students or professors who used "f----" in every sentence as a flavor word. It wasn't even a curse anymore to them.

My second daughter, who left the Mormon church when she was fourteen, has been dating steadily a non-Mormon young man in college. When she was ready to introduce him to her father, she realized that her boyfriend used a long list of "swear words" regularly that she suspected would offend her father. So she tried to give the boyfriend a couple of training lessons on what words not to use around Mormons. The list became so long that the boyfriend despaired. He was terrified of meeting the Mormon family because he was sure he would open his mouth and say something offensive to us within a minute of meeting. (Not to worry, meeting between boyfriend and Mormon parents went very well.)

Here is a short list of words most Mormons consider offensive which you might not consider curse words at all:

1. God (used except in direct prayer and even then, it is usually "Our Father")
2. Damn
3. Hell
4. Jesus/Christ (or any other variations)
5. Bitch
6. Piss
7. Cock, Dick, Pussy, Tits or any Reference to any genitalia, including the anatomically correct words
8. Faggot or any reference to homosexuality
9. Sex or any reference to any sex act

Instead, if you live in Utah, you might hear some of the following delightful euphemisms:

1. Fudge
2. Fetch
3. Flip
4. Frigging
5. Freakin'
6. Suck
7. Fart (the Mormon "f word")
8. Heck
9. Dangit
10. Dagnabit
11. Darn
12. Snot
13. Snap
14. Shut the front door
15. Shoot
16. Butt
17. Bottom
18. Backside
19. Poop
20. Crap (the Mormon "c word")
21. Peeved
22. Oh my gosh
23. Crud/Scrud
24. Golly
25. Gee whiz
26. Witch

Yup. You may feel when you enter Utah that you've gone back in time to a 50s that perhaps never existed anywhere but on the "Leave it to Beaver" set.

The funniest part of this list is that most Mormons will apologize even for using these pseudo-swear words and I have heard talks given that any kind of swearing, even by euphemism, is just as bad as using the actual swear word, and that we as Mormons need to be using more care not to express any kind of frustration in this way (which leads to me wondering about the kinds of repression Mormons feel on every level, but that is another post).

Since entering the very New York-based publishing world, I have become used to hearing and reading curse words and now am in a situation reverse of the one I used to be in. Now I am the one who recommends books and movies with cursing to others without ever noticing that there might be cursing in them. My father-in-law recently saw a movie I had recommended highly to him (The Martian) and commented that he couldn't recommend it to others because of a brief shot of a man's backside and the constant use of bad language. This floored me and made me shake my head. It felt to me that taking those things out would have changed the movie's impact and meaning.

I've heard that those who curse more frequently tend to be more honest, and I don't know if that's true. Mormons are generally a pretty honest bunch, though I suppose they can be so nice it feels sugar-sweet to others. It's usually meant quite sincerely. I like that Mormons try to live holy lives at all times, not just on Sundays. I like that Mormons are conscious of their own words.

But I will also say that there are times when I am sad that a truly great piece of art cannot be appreciated by Mormons because of the supposed "bad language" in it (consider here, a long list of superb, award-wining movies rated R, which Mormons will faithfully avoid). There are truly times when curse words are expressive of an experience in life that no other words can substitute for. There are times in the Mormon quest for goodness that it feels like we are denying the reality of what life is for those who are truly living in the dark.

And sometimes, when I read books by Mormons meant to be read by Mormons or movies aimed at the same audience, I feel like we are pulling punches and refusing to allow people to react as they truly would, or to deal with some of the real evil that is in the world out there. This doesn't feel to me like we are holding ourselves to a high standard or that we are lifting others up. It feels like we are instead living in a bubble to protect ourselves and those we love from the real life terrors that we ought instead to be facing head on and trying to alleviate rather than avoid.