My Mom is not big on swearing. Not the oath-taking type, although Mennonites are against that, too. Cursing. Blaspheming. Uttering profanities.
In my entire life, I’ve never heard my Mom swear.
Growing up in a pretty traditional Mennonite household, swearing was one of those things that was forbidden. Along with cards and gambling. And gossiping … if the person was around to hear it.
I remember going to church one Sunday morning. This was not unusual. There would have to have been a catastrophe not to go to church. Not just a snow storm; the worst snow storm. Ever. Not a downpour; an ark-worthy flood.
I am talking something of Biblical proportions.
So a three day rain was no excuse. We piled in the old Mercury and headed off.
My brother was driving. For some reason, he was thinking that some of the side roads would be in better shape than the main grids.
He was wrong.
We hit some deep mud, the car started fishtailing, and, in slow motion, we slid into the ditch.
As we were going in, my brother yelled, “Shit!”
I know that shit hardly qualifies as a curse word or profanity. I came of age in the 80s, so I know all the words.
Shit ranks pretty low on all lists.
Plus, of all the available swears, it is the one deemed most acceptable by the Mennonite church. Well, maybe not officially, but it is not unusual to hear a Mennonite, after, say, hitting his thumb with a hammer, to yell Sheise!*
This is shit in German. German is the language that God speaks, so swearing is acceptable if using divine language. Nearly.
Since cursing is frowned upon – yet everyone (except my mother, apparently) really needs to use those words from time to time – Mennonites have come up with unusual terms to circumvent the law.
One very popular one is dousand! This word literally means thousand, which is why Schwarzenegger always said it in all his 80s action movies. It all depends how you say it, I guess.
If dousand is bad, dievel is worse. You can probably guess that this means devil. I’m not sure how bad things have to be to use the devil’s name in vain, but it’s nice to know that it’s there when needed.
So, we’re sliding into the ditch, and my brother yells “Shit!” Not even in Low German, which might have constituted mitigating circumstances when he is judged at the Pearly Gates.
We hit the ditch and stopped. It was very quiet in the car. Well, who wouldn’t be shocked by such a vulgar display.
My Mom paused a moment, and then said, “Now … was that language really necessary?”
It was very freeing to hit high school and learn some real cursing. Some of my friends were artists, and soon I had shed my German only swearing and took on a number of English (said like you are spitting) swears.
When we had kids, I cleaned up my act and went back to only swearing in German. Going into the ministry, however, brought my 80s mouth back on line, and I was soon swearing like a sailor.
A sailor who had to keep his mouth shut, as swearing is generally frowned upon by the clergy. In public, anyway. In private, I know quite a few potty-mouthed pastors who can’t wait to blow off a little steam about a pain in the a … rear congregant.
In German, of course.
I find that, now that I’m older, I’m starting to enjoy swearing again. It really is an art form. Perhaps I’ll become an expert. I think that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master.
Hmmm. That’s a lot of swearing. I might have to go back into the ministry.
*Low German is a dialect and not a written language; therefore, it is OK to spell words however you like.