Sometime in the mid-’90s, I was sitting in a spa chair for my weekly mani pedi when a milky-pale woman settled into the chair beside me. Her existence hardly registered until she held up three bottles of nail polish, all variations of nude pink. “Which for my fingers and which for my toes?” she asked.
Slightly annoyed that a stranger was talking to me, I looked at the three bottles of seashell nude held in the stranger’s pink, pale hand. Then I looked at her face. It was Gwyneth Paltrow.
“Most people match their fingers and toes,” I said, meeting Paltrow’s sad, slow, loris gaze, “but I think you can do whatever the fuck you want.” And I returned to reading my New Yorker.
You might consider me rude for dropping the F-bomb on Gwyneth Paltrow. You might be right. But some people would look at my shiny, naked “fuck” and see something other than mere gutter talk. They might, for example, read my fuck as a sign of my intelligence, a coping mechanism, a marker of my identityas a New Yorker or proof of my honesty. Neuroscientists, sociologists, and cognitive scientists love to research why humans swear, and however disparate their copious studies, these researchers seem to have reached one unassailable conclusion: humans swear because, on some very primal levels, bad words are good for us.