Despite the occasional marketing hurdle, however, clearly these books are selling just fine. That’s the surprising thing about all of these supposedly irreverent titles. The premise of their humor is that they’re shocking, but they’re now so prevalent that it’s hard to imagine being shocked by them. They are “the product of a culture in which transgressing social norms has become an agreed-on social norm,” as essayist Dan Brooks wrote of the “naughty” card game Cards Against Humanity a few years ago. That game has been so successful that G-rated board games like Taboo and Cranium now tout “dark” or “adult” versions for people who enjoy dirty jokes, but can’t conjure them unless they’re printed on a deck of glossy cards. Profanity is now utterly basic.
As I said recently, I do identify as a person of colorful language, though I mostly only use it privately, typically toward inanimate objects. I have a rule of thumb for cursing around friends and acquaintances: never be the first one to start working blue, as it were. If they feel uninhibited enough to swear in my presence, then I might reciprocate, but otherwise, I’m happy to never cross that line. Not because of any middle-aged squeamishness, but because I prefer to avoid overly-easy familiarity. I value modesty and restraint more as a rule, keeping a reticent arm’s-length. But, yes, there’s also the fact that profanity is just unimaginative and boring as currently used. As Melissa Mohr suggested, there are some words and phrases that could be artfully deployed to cause actual shock, but we aren’t that brave yet. Personally, I’d rather unearth some forgotten classics. Let’s all try to bring back “swive,” shall we?