Knock Off The #%/* Cussin’

I’ll never forget the first time, at about the age of 13 or 14, I visited one of my friend’s family. They welcomed me as a family member and were outgoing and friendly. I’m sure the blood drained from my face and my mouth was gaping when, in the normal (sort of) course of family interaction, one of the members let fly with a big curse word. I was waiting for a parent to lower the boom, but nothing happened. They went on like everything was normal. I soon got used to the idea that everyone in the family, parents and children, cursed like the proverbial “drunken sailor.” I had never heard anything like it.

At this age, it would have been a real breath of freedom for most male adolescents to be able to use any language, at any time, and not be in trouble. But for some reason I could not bring myself to join my friend’s family. My father, when drinking, would use the most vile language; my mother did not curse, but I was never reprimanded for using foul language simply because I never did. Although I was never told not to, for some reason it just seemed like the wrong thing to do.

Now, on the way to junior high school (about a mile), my friends and I would walk the alleys and sometimes have “Cussin’ Contests,” to see who could come up with the best bad words. But we were all in the good company of like minded juvenile delinquents so it was okay. None of us would have ever said any of this in front of any adult let alone our parents. My friend’s family was the only bunch that I ever knew, then and now, that was so free with colorful language. It was such a long standing family tradition that they thought nothing of it. I’ve often wondered how some of those special family traditions get started, like opening gifts on Christmas eve instead of Christmas morning, or the all-American tradition of everybody always cussin.’

I also had a mentor/friend/surrogate father, who also had a flowery language habit. He did the same thing all the time, except it was somewhat controlled in unknown mixed company, unlike my friend and his family where every stranger was a friend. This person was also very loud when he spoke which would make me slide down in the booth when we were having good coffee, good conversation (sort of), and good entertainment for the other customers. At that time, in my younger formative years, this kind of language was not the norm, and generally looked down upon by a mostly polite society. Boy have things changed.

Now we have high profile politicos on international T.V. doing it often. Since conservatives are more religious than liberals and often have a better public presence, I was dismayed when both former President Bush and Vice-President Cheney were caught with open mikes using non-conservative language. I was disappointed. But current Vice-President Joe Biden is going to eclipse them all if he keeps it up. His, aside, vulgar comment to Obama caught on mike during the healthcare passage celebration, is not only beneath the dignity of his office, but gives a hint about the “behind the scenes” behavior of Obama and his staff. Biden then makes a curt off-color remark to a business owner recently that reveals an increasingly bold and crude character.

The end result of the “everything goes” 60’s, is the casual use of profanity by almost everyone today. It used to be that only males would curse, mainly, but not any more. It is now an equal opportunity activity. Some time back, my youngest son gave me a great compliment. In some sort of conversation about language he stated something like, “You know Dad, I have never heard you use profanity.” I felt successful and smug. I think I know why. Other than the Bible instructing us not to use profanity, when I was about 17 years old I saw a sign over a bar (yes, I was playing music in a bar), of all places, that read:

“Profanity is the attempt of a weak and feeble mind to

express itself forcefully.”

I read that over and over again and wondered if it was true. Somehow I was convinced that it was more true than not. It stuck with me.

In my third life (not reincarnated; I am now in my fourth life of retirement), when conducting a group counseling session with junior high kids, in the heat of the moment they would forget where they were and revert back to their walking-the-alley language. Actually, that has changed, it is now more of a walking-the-livingroom language. At those moments (always looking for a teachable moment), I would stop everyone and ask them to read the sign on my office wall (you know what it was): “Profanity is the attempt of a weak and feeble mind to express itself forcefully.” They would then look at me real puzzled and ask, in their best phonics guess, “What does profanity mean?” Often they would have to ask the meaning of some of the other words as well. After I explained, they would look at me like I was really weird. As with me decades before, I’m sure that with some of them it stuck.

I have little respect for the behavior of those who are always following the fads of the times. I have great respect for the high school student who recently gained national attention for his campaign to establish “no cussin’” clubs in high schools. His project is growing. Someone in the White House should start a similar adolescent level chapter with Obama, Biden, and Emanuel (Blago and his wife would be invited) as charter members. They could then be role models (it would take more than this) to dispel the idea that they do not have, but only as decent language is concerned, weak and feeble minds.

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