I love swearing. I fucking love it, even. I’ve loved it since I was a child. I don’t know why it appeals to me; I discovered the dark art of the profane on the playground of my public elementary school in second grade, playing football. There was a kid named Pat in our year, one of those loud people with a bulldozing personality. He swore like a sailor at age 9, and he did it beautifully. When he said ‘fuck,’ it was purposeful, jarring, and even charismatic. Larger-than-life. He made you want to say ‘fuck’ too, and soon we were all doing it. When you’re 9 years old, swearing gives you the same feeling of freedom you get later from your first car. “Fuck” is the shitty Oldsmobile of elementary school.
Even at that tender age, I knew enough to limit my swearing to certain situations, and I maintain that ability 20-odd years later. But the allure of a good curse has never worn off, and I take pride in the ability to swear with flair. There’s nothing more painful than watching an angry person swear as though they’re tasting some exotic food for the first time. When frustration comes, I want to be able to lash out at the world with a crisp stream of unbroken profanity. It’s a psychic balm for all manner of nuisance, and it makes me feel better.
There are people who think cursing is barbaric. You might be one of them, but I can never quite understand the stiffness of the clean language crowd. Sure, I fathom their reasons well enough—I think swearing is harmless on the grand scale, while they see it as a virulent defect of character—but I can’t understand how they resist. How do they release the anger of the day? Am I wrong in thinking they’re a bit repressed? That all the sweet moments of relief they deny themselves become bottled up somewhere in the medulla—the part of the brain where anger is fomented—and coagulate into an unchecked fury mass, infecting quality of life?
What really offends me about the anti-swearing crowd, though, is that they’re trying to whitewash the human experience. Swearing was not created in a vacuum. The words were not brought forth by the devil from the bowels of hell to be employed by evil men. They were crafted by people, in every culture and in every language, as a mode of expression. Ignore swear words, and you might as ignore the idea of even recognizing basic existential elements like injustice or heartbreak or suffering. It’s no coincidence that the people who grow uncomfortable in the presence of cursing are often the same ones who never want to talk about politics or war or anything less anodyne than the color of the clouds. And their life becomes a cloistered Victorian novel, with petty concerns between people with no real problems.
And swearing is not just stress relief. When bolstered by the power of intellect and used to make a broader point—comedic, usually, but not always—it can become poetic in its concise reflection of the harsh realities facing human kind.
Luckily, there’s at least one television show that shares my aesthetic. Veep, created by Armando Ianucci, carries on the grand cursing tradition of The Thick of It, its British predecessor. A 2012 New Yorker profile gave credit for the excellent swearing on both shows to Ian Martin, one of Ianucci’s writers who acts as a sort of hired gun for profanity. He’s responsible for most of Selina Meyer’s blue moments, and he admitted in the New Yorker that he has “a talent for a certain kind of stupid, overblown, bombastic, baroque swearing.”
He and the other writers have brought that talent to bear in a big way on Veep. The people in Selina’s orbit may not quite reach the profane levels of The Thick of It’s Malcom Tucker (that link is not even close to being safe for work), but they come damn close.
Veep is halfway through its third season with no sign of losing steam, so now seemed like a good time to honor the 15 best profane moments of the first 26 episodes. We begin with an all-timer from Selina herself:
15. Jonah: Hey, it’s J-Diddy. Ladies get giddy.
Selina: Jonah. Hey, listen, settle something for me.
Selina: You like to have sex and you like to travel?
Jonah: Yes, ma’am.
Selina: Then you can fuck off.
14. Dan: We need to pick a number.
Selina: No, I know, but I need to get clarity here. I’m not feeling it.
Dan: I was clear! I was clear! We just need to pick a fucking number, any fucking number. Give that fucking number to the fucking press, and go to fucking bed! I mean, how much more clarity do you need? You want to print it on a fucking t-shirt? Come on! [long awkward pause] I’m so sorry. I did not mean to blow up like that.
Selina: Well, um, I accept your apology while retaining the right to fire the fuck out of you. Shall I print that up on a T-shirt that I could give to you?
13. Joe Thornhill: [on TV] I’m just an honest Joe, and I like to speak my mind.
Selina: [to Ben] How much would I love to speak my mind on this campaign? Can you imagine if I did that? “Mississippi is chock full of assholes, I don’t trust the Chinese, and I gotta tell you something. I’m not gonna be able to pass a single piece of legislation that’s really gonna make any fuck of a difference in your life.” So how’s that for my platform?
Ben: Got my vote.
12. Dan: [seeing a pregnancy test Amy is buying for Selina] Holy sh- Are you pregnant? Amy, come on, career-wise, that’s like joining Scientology or getting a fucking neck tattoo.
Amy: Thanks for the support.
Dan: So I guess you’re gonna be needing maternity leave. I’d be the obvious choice for your replacement.
Amy: That is literally your first thought?
Dan: No. My first thought was, “there goes your figure,” but I didn’t say that because I thought it would be upsetting.
Amy: Thanks. You know, if it’s a boy, maybe I’ll name him after you. Call him Fuck Weasel.
11. Selina Meyer: I’m the Vice President of the United States, you stupid little fuckers! These people should be begging me! That door should be half its height so that people can only approach me in my office on their goddamn, motherfucking knees!
10. Selina Meyer: Okay, so they want me to go to a pig roast to meet a bunch of men who probably took turns to fuck the pig before they roasted it?
Amy Brookheimer: I wouldn’t presume they took turns.
9. Selina Meyer: What were you bobble heads doing while I was just getting ear fucked by father time?
8. Selina: Okay. What do you think of Dan?
Amy: Oh, Dan is a shit.
Selina: You want to expand on that?
Amy: Sure. He’s a massive and total shit. When you first meet him, you think surely to God this man can’t be as big a shit as he seems, but he is.
Selina: See, I -
Amy: ‘Cause like if there were a book with covers made of shit, you’d think “That’s intriguing. I wonder what’s in this book that they saw fit to give it covers made of pure shit.” And then you open it and… shit.
7. Mike: Just a small change in the speech.
Selina: What is that?
Mike: Plastics apparently talked to the President. The White House doesn’t want us mentioning oil or cornstarch or plastic. Just wing it.
Selina: This has been pencil-fucked completely?
Mike: Uh, yes, front and back. Very little romance.
6. Amy: Oh, come on. This is not the Hoover Dam.
Mike: Yeah, it is the Hoover Dam… filled with shit. And when we announce Chuck Furnham, an ex-oil guy, on the clean jobs task force, do you know what happens with all that shit, Amy?
Amy: Uh, does it get used in a clumsy and unpleasant analogy by you?
Mike: Look, Amy, oil already hates me ‘cause we’re closing their tax loopholes and making them pay for cleanup, so now I’m eating everyone’s shit. I’m like the last guy in a human centipede with this.
Amy: And there it is.
5. Jonah: So you’re saying that just because I’m not as close to POTUS as you thought I was, that means that we can’t hang out anymore?
Dan: What I’m saying, you fucking ape, is that you are a useless waste of fucking carbon. I’ve been trying to cynically use you, but you’re so fucking low-rent, you can’t even be exploited.
4. Senator Sidney Purcell: I don’t have any children. I have a niece and I fucking hate her.
Amy: How charming. I need to be getting home, so…
Senator Sidney Purcell: You know I wanted to tell you if you think this bill of yours is gonna go the distance, then you must be even stupider than I think you are. And I should tell you, I think you’re borderline developmentally disabled. This bill is a fucking disgrace, and I’m going to see to it personally that it gets chewed up like a dead prostitute in a wood chipper. Just wanted to let you know.
3. Roger Furlong: You know, you’re about as annoying as a condom filled with fire ants. How’s that for a fucking metaphor?
Will: That’s a simile, sir.
Roger Furlong: Shut your mouth, you fat girl.
2. Dan: What’s the whole not-drinking thing?
Ed Webster: I’m a Quaker.
Dan: Bullshit! No one’s a fucking Quaker.
Jonah: You probably think that staying sober keeps you on top of your game. Well, guess what. I work hard and I play hard, bitch. That’s my credo. I got that shit tattooed on my dick with room to spare.
Ed: Jonah, you’re not even a man. You’re like an early draft of a man, where they just sketched out a giant, mangled skeleton, but they didn’t have time to add details, like pigment or self-respect. You’re Frankenstein’s monster, if his monster was made entirely of dead dicks.
1. Selina: Jonah, don’t talk, don’t stay. You need to fuck off and go back to Westworld.
Jonah: But, ma’am—
Selina: You need to fuck off.
Jonah: But, ma’am—
Selina: I said fuck off. Three fucks, you’re out.
Jonah: Yes, ma’am.
And there we have it. The cursing is just part of what makes Veep great. The political energy, the scheming, and the reality of cynical leadership—the only “victories” are temporary boons for politicians, and the people are left in the cold—make the show a brilliant satire of government. But the obscenity is a critical component, and without it, Selina and her contemporaries wouldn’t be so quite so interesting. They also wouldn’t be themselves. Cursing is integral—to them, to me, and to the broader swath of profane humanity. And if that’s the case, we might as well do it with some fucking style.