Friends, let me interrupt my previously scheduled column topic to talk for a minute about cussing. As you probably know, the governor was supposedly heard on camera during a COVID briefing using the “F-word.” Now I’m not going to debate whether he actually said it (he didn’t), or if he did say it, whether it was warranted (if you’ve seen the traffic in town recently, you’d agree it probably was). But the whole bru-haha around it got me thinking about cussing and how it really is one of those things you either don’t care about or it just devastates you, and there’s really no in between.

Having grown up in a house where the cussing was consistent (and frequent, depending on how Marshall was doing in football that year), I fall firmly into the former category, and if you grew up with a dad that cussed, you can’t help but be pretty jaded about cussing. I mean, my dad cussed inanimate objects till a fly wouldn’t land on them: shirts that stayed wrinkled, lawn mowers that wouldn’t start, fishing lines that wouldn’t untangle. None of them escaped his choiciest combo of four-letter words. Frankly, hearing the governor possibly, maybe, drop a cuss word was almost nostalgic for me, a throwback to all those words I could hear, but was told to never, ever repeat.

Because the funniest part of living with dads that cussed was how shocked they were when their children would cuss. The horror that would cross their faces when you would accidentally slip a cuss word into conversation, and then those dads would have the nerve to ask “Who taught you to say words like that?!?” You, man! You said them all the time! You just finished dropping four-letter bombs on the remote because the batteries ran out, but sure, the six weeks I’ve spent with my new heathen friends from Pittsburgh have been my ruin.

And to be fair to me, I never stood a chance when it came to being desensitized to cussing. My uncles are all union pipefitters, and they can’t tell a story that doesn’t include a four-letter word in the punch line. But really, isn’t that what uncles are for, starting the cuss-word indoctrination process? Your parents really do try their best to keep your childlike innocence when it comes to words as intact as possible: making sure your movies are G-rated, watching what they play on the radio when little ears are in the car, and trying desperately not to holler out an F-word of their own when they’re putting together your Hot Wheels racing track and those blankety-blank-blank tracks won’t fit together. And then your uncles come rolling into the house, and next thing you know, you’re in time out because you made the mistake of repeating what Uncle Terry said word for word, and Uncle Terry is now laughing his butt off at you. Only now, thanks to him, you don’t call it “butt.”

If you think about it, being able to cuss around your parents without your mom whacking you upside the head or giving you the scariest of side-eyes is the absolute sign that you have crossed over into adulthood. Think about it: most of you reading this have finished high school and have advanced training in something, and a job to match. You own a home. You have kids. You make your own doctor’s appointments. But unless you’ve cussed in front of your parents, you have not truly crossed over, because as long as you still live in fear that your sixty-year-old mom is going to cram a bar of Dial soap in your thirty-year-old mouth for letting a cuss word slip, then I’m sorry to tell you: you are adult-like at best.

Some of you will never fully cross over, and that’s okay. You will never have to worry that you’ll perhaps slip up on state-wide television, causing a flurry of hilarious memes and a brand new debate over just how bad the F-word is. You’ll never accidentally offend anyone with your language, and you will endlessly amuse your friends who are jaded by cussing with your innocence. And just like smoking or drinking coffee, if you haven’t started cussing, don’t look upon last week’s gaffe as an opening for you to start. Because if you start, you won’t stop, and then you’ll try it in front of your parents to see if you’re a real adult, and then you’ll be mad at me because you can’t get those Ivory soap shavings out from between your teeth.

So for those of us who crossed over, take this reminder to heart: there is a time and a place for cussing, and that time and place is determined by your parents and the Federal Communications Commission, in that order. Let those words fly in your car, singing along to the few non-parental advisory CDs you have left from your heathen days. Let them fly when you’re hurt (it’s been proven that cussing helps out with managing pain). Let them fly in your momma’s house, but only if she’s given you her silent permission first (and even then, be ready for her to take it back).

But whatever you do: try not to do it on television, even accidentally, even if it happens because of a technical glitch and it’s obvious you didn’t say whatever it is they think you said. Because West Virginians have been at home too long, and everyone has a photoshop program and way too much time on their hands to let it slide. And when it comes to sharing memes, we go from all having terrible internet to having unlimited data real blankety-blank-blank quick.