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Dam with an “n”

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“Why do people swear, Daddy?” asked my nine-year-old son.

I paused, then replied, “I’m not sure. I guess it’s just a way people get out their bad feelings.”

“Like dam,” he persisted. “Why is it a swear word? It just holds water. Why is that bad?”

“No, no, there’s an ‘n’ on the end,” I said, grinning.

“Wait… Dan is a swear word? Like Grandpa Dan?”

“No, D-A-M-N, dam with an ‘n’ on the end,” I laughed.

His question got me thinking: why do we swear? Is it because when we were kids we weren’t allowed to, and so we became completely fascinated with it? Is it just an efficient way of expressing our anger, pain, hate, or pleasure?

The only line I remember from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is “Pass the damn ham, please.” All the beautiful writing in that book, and that’s what I remember. I still laugh when I think of a child saying that line. Perhaps there’s a lesson there — swear words are most effective if they are unexpected. Dam(n) them up so when you really, really need them, you can unleash a sweeping torrent of unique and descriptive expletives upon the world!

Image: Simer Haer/The Cascade

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