Money & Careers

Confessions of a Cursing Librarian

781px-Geraldine_Fain,_daughter_of_Harry_Fain,_coal_loader,_browses_in_free_library_supported_by_the_company._Librarian..._-_NARA_-_541514Manners, manners: The old rule abides—no swearing in the library! (Image via Wikimedia)

I recently strained a tendon in my foot, which made walking extremely painful. My podiatrist suggested a cortisone shot. 

“This will hurt,“ he warned as he angled a gigantic needle toward my foot, “but I think it might alleviate the problem.”

When the needle plunged in and the searing pain hit, I let loose with a stream of profanity that clearly shocked my doctor, a pleasant and amiable fellow who also happened to be an Orthodox Jew. 

I wasn’t swearing at him. I was just swearing. But the verbiage I’d unleashed was at odds with my demeanor. I’m a mild-mannered, middle-aged librarian. Up to that moment, I’d been ladylike and well spoken. Nary a “damn” had crossed my lips.  

Of course, up till then he hadn’t stuck me with any sharp objects.

I am, by nature, well behaved. My role model for correct behavior, as I grew up in the sixties, was my mother, a woman with exquisite manners. Mom was no aristocrat, just a middle-class Detroit housewife. But she was ladylike to the core, and she raised me to be the same.  

And a lady didn’t swear. Ever. 

As a young girl, I never once heard my elegant mother say any of the words I’d just inflicted upon my poor podiatrist.  

Upon occasion, Mom would say “darn.”  If truly provoked, she’d allow herself to exclaim, “Jesus Christ!“ which was always followed by this disclaimer:  “I’m a Jew. I don’t believe in him anyway.” 

My mother wanted to set a good example for her daughters, and I was happy to follow her lead.  

Then I became a rebellious teenager and the counterculture kicked in. I didn’t want to be ladylike. I wanted to be liberated! I marched against the Vietnam War. I read Sisterhood Is Powerful. I wanted to challenge authority. A nice suburban Jewish girl saying fuck? That was a challenge in and of itself! 

I grew my hair long and wore torn jeans and smoked pot and used profanity.

And if you didn’t like it, you could just go *%@! yourself. 

Mom was appalled. But perhaps, also, just a little intrigued. I think I was a good influence. By the time I hit my twenties, Mom had loosened up a little. The occasional “damn“ crept into her speech. Only, of course, when strictly necessary. But I do  believe she enjoyed it.  

And why not? As far as I’m concerned, profanity is the spice of life. To this day, at home, and with friends, I love to employ a well-chosen swearword. 

Of course, when I got a job in the junior room at my local public library, I had to put a lid on it. 

Under no circumstances can you say fuck when you’re working in a public library.  

Especially in the junior room. 

Eileen, dropping a heavy reference book on her sandal-clad foot, can exclaim only  “Sugar!”

Deb, tripping over an extension cord and falling flat on her face, is allowed to shout  “Dang!”   

Even when a hotheaded patron, infuriated because I refuse to waive a fine, begins shouting and swearing and calling me nasty names, I’m not allowed to “return fire.“ 

The worst I can say is  “I’m very sorry you feel that way.”  

But when I’m not at the library, I swear. For emphasis. For flavor. To liven up an otherwise dull sentence. To fully express my emotions when AT&T puts me on hold for 20 minutes and then disconnects me. 

When it comes to profanity, I lead a double life. On the job, I appear to be the perfect lady my mother raised me to be.

But inside my own head, and in my own home, and with my close friends, I’m Lenny Bruce. 

When I’m really stressed out, the usual profanity gets cranked up a notch.  Every other word out of my mouth is a curse word. 

For instance, if I‘m walking to the train station on a bitterly cold day, and am suddenly blasted by an icy wind, a little mantra made entirely of curse words will start going through my head. “Fuckity-fuckity-fuckity-fuck,” I’ll chant to myself as I lean into the wind. “Fuckity-fuckity-fuck.” 

It’s best if I can say it aloud, but I don’t have to. It calms me just to think it. 

Observing my placid demeanor, you’d never in a million years imagine what I’m thinking.     

And unless you stick a big needle in me, you probably won’t find out.    

Although Mom wouldn’t approve, the truth is that research backs me up. When you’re stressed, a little profanity helps.   

One recent study (from the journal NeuroReport) found that people subjected to a painful experience (plunging a hand into cold water) could better endure the pain if they were allowed to swear.  Concluded the study’s author, “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear.”   

As a mild-mannered, profanity-loving librarian, how do I feel about this study? 

I think it’s fucking awesome.   


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  • Dougb May 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I heard a new one today on NPR “he double toothpicks”
    just saying from the ancient librarian–back to Dan Brown’s he double toopicks.

  • Elaine March 18, 2013 at 11:55 am

    As Just One Boomer points out, it is the well-chosen occasional swear word that is the most satisfying.As I told my daughter, sometimes fuck is the right word, the only words to use. But rarely. If you use it in place of commas, sprinkling it throughout every sentence you utter, it loses all resonance. I did learn recently that I am just not a swearer by nature when my car – which I apparently did NOT put into park before getting out of it- began rolling backwards down my driveway toward the woods. I chased it all the way, shouting, “Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please!” It wasn’t until the car struck a tree and stopped that I, too, came to a halt and uttered and exasperated, “Well, hell!”

  • isabella March 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    I’m sure it’s all very f*&%ing therapeutic, indeed!

  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne) March 14, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Of course, an expletive (or string of expletives) issuing forth from someone (like a librarian) from whom you do not expect one is much more effective than from say, a sailor. (If you are a sailor who never swears, please understand that I am merely resorting to a well worn stereotype here, not implying that any individual, particular sailor actually — swears like a sailor).

  • Roz Warren March 14, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for the positive feedback. WVFC readers are fucking awesome!

  • Diane Dettmann March 14, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Years spent in elementary classrooms suppressed my swearing. However, once when the film projector malfunctioned a sh&% fell out of my mouth within ear range of a little freckled-faced first grader. The look on his face? Shock! “Miss Elleson! Teachers don’t swear!” To this day, I’m not fond of swearing, but an occasional, well chosen curse word comes in handy!

  • Toni Myers March 13, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks, cursing librarian, from another same who managed to keep those 5-words-in-a-string silent while presenting a shit-eating grin to offenders who deserved worse. We leave the library, throw off our virtual buns, kick off those ugly but serviceable shoes, run to happy hour with friends and go wild.
    If you want to see how wild librarians can be in the stacks at night, stream the funny movie Party Girl staring Parker Posey, 1996? Alas, I don’t think it’s R rated.

  • jody March 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

    This could be my essay (if only I could write essays) .

  • Ruth Nathan March 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Well, that last line… What can I say?

  • Kimberly March 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    LOVE this 🙂 Sometimes it’s necessary!

  • Mark Lowe March 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Wonderful! So nicely written! Revolutionary! Iconoclastic! Flies in the face of convention!

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson March 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I swear to relieve anger & frustration & the part about pain seems logical. My father cursed a lot; of course, the F word didn’t become “popular” til I was older. My father’s famous saying when he came home & saw all the light on was:
    God damn it! Do you think I own the god damn electric company. Shut off the lights, God damn it!
    So I was weaned on curse words. As a nice Jewish girl, also, I see no problem if you don;t offend the other person.
    Cursing is a mild form of emotion that works for me!
    Listen, if the NYT took forever to use Ms, in their content, why would they ever approve of Fuck?

  • wendy March 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm


  • Richard Bready March 12, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Early voice-to-text systems omitted all swear words. Then they learned that when users tell the system to go fuck itself, they expect that text to appear and are annoyed if it doesn’t. So they added all the swear words. Which are easy for the systems to recognize.

  • emilie March 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Oh HELL yes!! I try to limit my cursing to my office or the workroom, but sometimes a bullsh*t slips past my lips behind the reference desk.

  • Kate March 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Good &*%@#*% #*%*!

  • Mary G. March 12, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Nothing hits the spot like a well planted f-bomb….
    I, too, do not appear the “type” to have a foul mouth. The reaction I get when a choice word or two bursts forth is first silence…(Did SHE say that?) then shock – (she SAID that!) to giggles… (She said THAT!)then hilarious laughter and the tension is gone.

  • swordfish March 12, 2013 at 9:09 am

    I can’t believe you swear Roz. I’m *(&*^&*( shocked!

  • Kelly March 12, 2013 at 8:01 am

    This is awesome! I completely agree. A well-placed swear word can be both relaxing and hilarious.