WARNING – this post has rough language. If you are offended by coarse curse words, you will be offended here. Better leave now. You can always read one of my poems – there are smoother, genteel phrases amongst them.
I have worked in geology and engineering for nearly 40 years; mostly with men, in the field. By the field I mean the bush, taiga, tundra, swamps, mountains, jungle, drill rigs, construction sites and so on. You get the idea: rough, dirty places; not dainty offices. For the most part the men were rough too and they talked rough. I talk rough too, when needs be, or I forget my manners. Some would say rough words are “dirty words”. That’s OK; I am a dirt/rock sort of engineer.
Many of the folk I worked with did dirty work; drilling, digging trenches, excavating and compacting fill. My job was to watch them work, generally to make sure that the work being performed was of the standard required by project drawings and specifications; or the standards of practice. It is called construction observation in our engineering parlance.
Field work is the sort of work that many young people straight from school hate. You are outside, subjected to noise, heat, cold, dirt, schedule disruptions, and situations that no professor ever lectured on. Actually, come to think of it, there was a lot of stuff they never taught me in engineering school (Interested? Read all about it!). Nobody ever taught me how to firmly ask a contractor superintendent to rip out the 10 feet of fill compacted over the weekend when you were not watching. No nerdy professor ever gave me a cheat sheet on how to insist that a driller slow down and focus on getting good soil samples, not break feet per hour speed records. And I was never given hints on how to stand up for myself amongst men 50 to 100 pounds heavier brandishing fists in my face. Indeed: the only times I have been subjected to physical violence in my adulthood was when struck by angry men on field sites (in Hawaii – the Aloha State – by the way).
I used to collect the curses thrown at me by angry people. I stopped after I filled a page of them. Here are a few:
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde
When I was younger I prided myself as being a friendly and cooperative man so the curses were personal, and I would be shocked and angry. Eventually, reflection forced me to try to think kindly of the men who hurled the words like weapons. Often that is all they had. I had some authority – they had only words. (Anyway: I was always able to turn off my hearing aids if they curses became too loud.) Especially provoked, in retaliation I coined my own insult about so-and-so being a Cloaca Maxiumus. (The name of the main Roman sewer.) Cloaca is also the multi-functional orifice of a bird, and so “cloaca” covers just about all the anatomical features of profane interest; “Maximus” was recognition of how much of a cloaca so-and-so was…
I eventually learned to try not to take the insults personally and to try salve the hurts by reconciling with the men who had insulted me. I think now that the curses were irritating enough that they produced some pearls of wisdom.
In 1989 more curses came my way from Dr. F~, a then world-famous engineer with whom I had to work in 1989. We did not get along at all. We were both Brits: he rich, famous, successful, well-educated and powerful. Me: none of these. His insults to me included:
Proud, Vehement and Belligerent
At the time, Dr. F~’s curses were like grit in my smooth life. I was 41, experienced and well thought of in my small professional circle. But Dr. F~’s insults irritated me so much that I felt I had to show him and others that I was not what they took me to be. Indeed: Dr. F~ was one of the three prime motivators for me going to to Berkeley, in 1990. (Reason 2 was Prof. D~ of Berkeley telling me I was too old to be a graduate student. Reason 3 was the insistent yearning to learn which came from my ignorant bewilderment upon first meeting the deranged melanges of the Franciscan Complex of northern California.)
Dear Dr. F~ and I reconciled before he died in 1994; by which time I had taken his irritating, gritty curses and produced a PhD dissertation- a pearl of sorts – in which he is prominently acknowledged.