People rarely do it in front of their parents. Or with their kids in the room. And doing it in church is beyond blasphemous.
So why do folks feel so free to curse, swear and say the most foul four-letter words in public?
That's the question Chicagoan James O'Connor asked himself two years ago after he sat through the popular, profanity-laden movie "Get Shorty."
Rather than try to answer such a complex question O'Connor decided instead to take action: He opened up the "Cuss Control Academy" in his hometown. His twice-monthly classes are aimed at helping people curb their appetite for bad words.
"[Cursing is] a very, very serious problem," says O'Connor, whose book, "Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing," is due out in March. "Our society seems to have come to the comfort level where any kind of four-letter word is okay."
Well, doesn't his crusade fly in the face of the sacred First Amendment? Don't we citizens of the United States of America have the privilege to curse whenever and wherever we damn well please? Isn't his crusade just a bunch of . . .
Well, wait a minute. Swear words are not just harmless colloquial expressions of a free and modern society, says O'Connor. The crusade against public swearing is about the good of society.
We cuss because we fuss.
And fussing, he says, can lead to a wide range of antisocial behavior including road rage, fights and even physical violence. Take cursing away, O'Connor says, and people can learn to communicate better. They also will learn to cope easier with whatever little inconveniences life throws at them.
"It's an attempt to get people to at least control when and where they swear in an effort to restore some civility and good manners," O'Connor says.
But can clipping the bad lip make you a happier person, win you friends and help you influence people?
Absolutely, says O'Connor, who admits to a small streak of blue language himself. He reached his conclusion after interviewing nonreligious people who don't curse. (Yes, they exist; he said he found a slew of them.) All were calm, rational people who rarely got mad. And if they did, well, the worst that came out of their mouths were such expressions as "darn" and "fooey."
By nature, these people aren't easily rattled, so they're not inclined to curse. That, in a nutshell, is Ron Ellis, 47, a calm man who speaks a tinge below normal and a leap above a whisper. He is prone to laugh heartily. And he has never, he says, uttered a blimey curse word.
"It's not a part of my vocabulary," Ellis says matter-of-factly. "I just don't do that."
As his wife, Jane, enters the conversation, she jokingly draws an imaginary halo around Ron's head. She's been married to him for 28 years and says he has never uttered anything more risque than "son of a gun." And it took her a minute to come up with that one.
"I met Ron when I was 14 and he was 16 and I've never heard him cuss," says Jane, who admits to flinging a few foul words every now and then. "That's what makes this even more amazing. It's a Ripley's Believe It or Not."
She says he rarely gets mad, eliminating the need to curse.
The father of seven also feels a need to be a role model. He said his parents cursed, his siblings swore and, as a music teacher, he hears swear words almost every day. But he just never uses that language.
"As a teacher I feel like I have to show the right kind of behavior," he says. "And for me to tell a child, especially my own child, not to cuss and then for me to do it, seems kind of bad."
That's music to O'Connor's ears, though he says he's not the potty-mouth patrol ready to rid the world of dirty words. He just thinks less cursing is the key to a less stressful world, and maintains that even natural-born cursers can learn to control their anger along with their language.
"One way to control your swearing is to control your emotions," he said. "And if you control your emotions you're going to be a more content person and you're also going to be a much more pleasant person to be with."
All this may sound futile, but O'Connor is in national demand for his cursing curbing services. He's often invited to speak at school assemblies and to conduct workshops for corporations. He also teaches about 30 people a month at his academy. During an appearance on Oprah Winfrey, he even got the talk-show queen to admit that she curses too much.
Linda Hill, director of the Colorado School of Protocol and Etiquette in Denver, says bravo to O'Connor. Cursing is something that ladies and gentlemen just don't do. She plans to add a class on the subject to her etiquette school next year.
"When they use vulgar or profane language they're demonstrating three things: a lack of breeding, lack of manners and lack of vocabulary," she says.
And that's no baloney.