I was putting together bookcases over the weekend, so naturally my mind turned to cursing.
These particular bookcases are made by a company called Sauder. The top, middle, and bottom shelves are attached to the sides by means of “hidden connectors” in which screws are set at a 90 degree angle to the tiny access opening. The only way to reach them is to “insert screwdriver at an angle.”
That’s exactly what it says on the instructions. “Insert screwdriver at an angle.”
Let me be clear: the screw itself is not set an angle; it is the access to the screw that is at an angle. This means, of course, that only one half of the screwdriver tip actually has contact with the screw head — and this contact is at 45 degrees.
There are 12 hidden connectors on each case, and I was setting up two cases.
For the mathematically challenged, that’s 24 frickin’ hidden connectors.
By the fourth screw, I’d already used up my entire supply of regular curses (“Damn it!” “God damn it!” “God f–king damn it!”) and was relegated to incoherent whimpers. Finding this to be less than satisfactory, however, I tried something different for the next one. It dawned on me that I wasn’t really angry at the hidden connectors themselves, but at the pitiful excuse for an engineer who had somehow conceived the idea of setting up screws so that, in order to reach them, you had to “insert screwdriver at an angle.”
As I chipped away at the head of the next screw, I turned my wrath fully upon that unknown engineer: “May all your children return home when they’re 30 and live in your basement!” I yelled.
I admit, it wasn’t as viscerally satisfying as my all-encompassing, emergency curse: “F–king God f–king damn f–king it! F–k!” But still, there was an oddly agreeable feeling to it.
This, I realized, was because I was reconnecting with the powerful tradition of the curse.
The curse, of course, started out as a dark, magical incantation meant to bring despair and ruination to its object. Even today, when we hit our thumb with a hammer and say “God damn it,” what we are really saying is: “Oh great and almighty God, look upon this corrupt and evil thing, this abomination in Thy sight, and relegate it to the bowels of the everlasting fires which, in Thy infinite mercy, Thou hast prepared for such unspeakable objects as this hammer. And reality TV shows.”
The simple “God damn it” has the advantage of being shorter and more succinct, but with this economy of energy we have, I believe, given up something of great value — the feeling that what we are saying may actually make a difference.
During the auditions for Britain’s Got Talent, most contestants rejected by the panel of judges must content themselves with impotent and often incoherent tirades filled with invective and comically bad grammar. How much more effective was the response by Gwyneth Marichi, a “sort-of” witch whose lame act was unanimously and decisively buzzed to an early end. A few minutes after storming off the stage, she returned and uttered a curse of doom upon the entire panel. (See YouTube video.)
“We were left a little bit twitchy about what she’d actually done to us,” said Piers Morgan, “it was fairly horrific. It involved a form of witchcraft. Then we had a really bad session, the worst ever, in fact.”
Some celebrities take cursing very seriously. Jessica Simpson paid a witch to curse Tony Romo, the man who’d dumped her just before her 29th birthday. Michael Jackson purportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put curses on such offending personages as Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. And the rock band Fall Out Boy recently hired a witch doctor to dispel the curse its members believe has been dogging their tour. “So we have a shaman coming in to bless the tour,” said bass player Pete Wentz, “and we’re making the opposite of voodoo dolls, whatever that is.”
One of the most curse-ridden books is the Bible which barely gets into the third chapter before the first curse is uttered — in this case by God against the serpent. “You are cursed more than all cattle,” He says, leading us to wonder what exactly cattle had ever done to piss Him off. Three verses later, however, the ground itself is cursed, and in the fourth chapter, Cain is cursed.
That’s a hell of a lot of cursing in a short space of time.
There’s something very satisfying about the old-fashioned curses we find in the classics such as the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. Their complexity, detail, and intelligence lend a gravitas completely absent from modern “cussin’.”
Unfortunately, this talent has been lost along with doublets, neck ruffles, and adequate parking.
As always, however, the Internet offers hope.
The Elizabethan Curse Generator, in the space of microseconds, can create such satisfactory phrases as, “Thou artless reeling-ripe measle!” “Thou vacant knotty-pated younker!” And “Thou fawning rug-headed boar-pig!”
But really, these aren’t so much curses as they are insults. Much more satisfying is the Biblical Curse Generator, which vastly improved upon my own feeble attempt to curse the engineer: “Woe unto thee, O thou lying Girgashite, for you will beget difficult teenagers!”
Heh heh. “Girgashite.”
Perhaps it’s because of their close ties with both the Old Testament and vaudeville that the Jews are among the best at coming up with the “double-take curse” — a curse that at first blush sounds remarkably like a blessing. When the village rabbi in Fiddler on the Rooftop is asked if there is an appropriate blessing for the Czar of Russia, he replies, “May the Lord bless and keep the Czar…far from our village.” But for my purposes, the best Jewish curse I can think of is, “May he have a great business with inventory.”
And that’s exactly what I wish for the Sauder company. May they have a truly long and outstanding success in the business of inventory.
The frickin’ assholes.