Dispatches | June 22, 2007

“Come here, you hoary sewer rat,” I said, patting my lap, encouraging my cat to jump up and get some long-deserved affection. As I stroked his ears, he purred to a litany of name-calling spoken in a dulcet tone.

If you think this is bad, you should hear how I talk to my husband, who I sometimes call “Spit,” other times “Spud,” but never “Dear,” “Love” or “Darling.” Barked orders are punctuated with a string of mean adjectives preceding a very unflattering noun (though I avoid Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV”). I also frequently make fun of his age, height, athleticism, you name it; every flaw is fair game. And he does the same to me. It’s a real Whose-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf fest at my house, minus the anger and disappointment.

Let me explain. I reserve the harshest, cruelest, rudest language for the two I love the most, my husband and my cat. It’s a form of intimacy, really. It’s what a friend of mine aptly calls “creative foul-mouthing.”

I come by this skill naturally. My father called my stepmother “fathead” and I have two older brothers who as teens spoke their own Clockwork Orange-like argot.

When I recently watched the movie Venus, staring Peter O’Toole, I was reminded of how wonderfully skillful the Brits are at foul-mouthing those they love. The movie is about two octogenarian actors. One of their remaining delights is to verbally belittle each other. The Oxford-bound preps in The History Boys speak to each other in much the same way.

It can’t only be a British thing. I asked around the office if anyone else engages in this particular past-time. A few admitted to more sanitized forms. One of our poets calls her dear friend “Das Head” in honor of her big German cranium. Though I consider that more smart mouth than foul.

Go ahead, if you love them, curse them out. Nothing brings you closer than a few well-chosen coarse insults.