Thoughts & Views

Silence of the damns






We’ve learned that the girls at Our Lady Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington have pledged not to utter swear words so they can be more lady-like, according to the teacher whose idea it was to wage war on blue.

As for the Q of P male students, well … boys will be boys, I guess.

I say this: If those young ladies want to clear the air of foul language, fine and dandy. Just don’t expect me to follow their lead.

Let me be the first to admit I’m a coarse, nasty newspaperman and the newsrooms in which I was nurtured were filled with an ever-present tobacco haze, punctuated by ripples of profanity. In the latter, I became a somewhat proficient practitioner.

Typically, I would direct my venom, not at any human target, but rather, at the gobbledygook contained in a public relations press release or to myself — [editor’s note: it is a well-known fact that reporters are not humans] – when confronted by a soon-approaching deadline with a gaping hole in my story.

But I well remember the day when I lost my cool in a municipal clerk’s office and let loose a stream of invective that an offended public official later informed my editor “was worse than I ever heard when I was a truck driver.”

Gosh. Didn’t know I had it in me. Classic case of reporter rage.

But I’m glad I vented – much better to release the pent-up son of a b—- , er, frustration, than to keep it inside and get an ulcer later, right?

No? Well, if you don’t believe me, then listen to what Mark Twain said on the subject of cussing: “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”

Or this: “There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.”

And, more famously, this: “If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.”

Twain, as a lover of American idiom, was mining that linguistic treasure even when uttering or writing those words that Victorians find offensive. As he put it in a speech on Private and Public Morals he gave in 1906, Twain observed: “The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way.”

When Twain’s wife Livy, who was averse to her husband’s liberties with the lingo, one day repeated his out-ofbounds orations to him, Twain replied: “You got the words right, Livy, but you don’t know the tune.”

John Nance Garner IV, a Texas politico popularly known as “Cactus Jack,” who served as FDR’s vice president, got the tune just right when he referred to his office as “not worth a bucket of piss.” [Print newsmen of that era changed the wording to “spit.”]

Now lest folks think I’m applauding swearing for the sake of swearing, think again.

As Twain would have it, let the circumstances dictate the content and manner of your verbal behavior.

So the next time some misguided motorist cuts you off, roll down your window, open your mouth and tell the driver what you’re thinking “… in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way.”

Even a lady can do that, right?

– Ron Leir

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