Anyone who’s banged a thumb with a hammer or had an 18-pound cat with very sharp claws try and fail to jump onto your bare legs has probably uttered a swear word or two, or at the very least a pained nonsensical Yosemite Sam outburst (and you were probably thinking a few swear words even if you didn’t say them out loud).
Just as other words and their uses have evolved, so have curse words (’scuse me, we’re Southern here: CUSS words). Melissa Mohr, who wrote A Brief History of Swearing, the main title of which I can’t print in the paper (it’s Holy Sh*t), says in a story by Discovery News:
“There’s a sort of Victorian theory that the very first words were swear words. The idea is that swearing is very emotional and [is] used when we’re feeling emotional. That’s when we use swear words. So that the first cries of pain kind of gradually developed into words and that’s the basis of language itself.”
Mohr says there’s evidence of swear words in writing at least as far back as the beginning of the written word, many of which involved religion (there’s that thing about taking God’s name in vain, you know). “That kind of swearing is older than obscene swearing—the sexual and excremental obscenities. Or more recently, the racial slurs.”
Many of the words once considered swear words (like many throughout Chaucer’s works) don’t pack the punch they once did as language has evolved and the original context disappeared.
In cinema for decades, the very puritanical Hays Code dictated what could be done and said.
On television in 1952, censors wouldn’t allow use of the word “pregnant,” which caused a problem for Lucille Ball, whose pregnancy was written into I Love Lucy, necessitating use of a lot of euphemisms.
I grew up hearing the occasional dirty word, sometimes from the grandma who could—but didn’t always—swear like a sailor and put seven syllables in a certain cuss word (having been born in Texas; it’s in the DNA, apparently), married to the former sailor I never heard cuss. And with three older brothers, any deficit in cuss words I experienced was quickly corrected.
I didn’t swear until I was in college (about the worst I said was “crap”), probably because I didn’t have a reason before then. I don’t do it a lot now, but sometimes … it just has to come out.
But not in the paper.
As a family newspaper, we generally don’t print obscenities, especially those involving bodily functions.
Deputy Editor Frank Fellone says we use “the two G’s”—“whether it’s germane to the news story or gratuitous.” We err on the side of caution here unless there’s a legitimate journalistic purpose, which is judged on a case-by-case basis using—above all—common sense. You know—that thing that’s far from common nowadays.
In reporting quotes with obscenities, there must be a good reason (not shock value) for using the quote (such as that particular obscenity or the person who said it being the story), and even then we would use asterisks in most cases for the really bad words, which we deployed in a recent John Brummett column about Hillary Clinton picking a fight with Barack Obama over his Iraq policy.
As far as that George Patton quote that occasionally shows up on the editorial page (which I found at least three slightly different verified forms of, as it seems he used that quote more than once), it’s given a little leeway with its use of a certain word (bastard) because of historical value.
Generally though, unless you’re talking about a child conceived and/or born out of wedlock, we won’t use that word on the Voices page, nor will we use that other word usually applied to women—unless you’re talking about a female dog. We don’t much cotton to name-calling, so play nice.
And if your non-swearing-like-a-sailor grandma would smack you upside the head for using a word, don’t use it here, please.
Don’t make me call mine.
A reader pointed out a quote in a news story from last week about “skewered” research results that introduced into her head visions of the speaker barbecuing up some data shish kebabs.
I think we’ve all made such slips of the tongue, especially when tired. One of my now-common sayings around here, for instance, came about because my tongue wouldn’t cooperate one day when I tried to say “Lord have mercy.” Thus, “Lord have Murray” was born (poor Murray).
It’s somewhat akin to “spoonerisms,” which are usually the result of transposed syllables or letters, like “half-warmed fish” rather than “half-formed wish.”
William Archibald Spooner, an Oxford reverend and dean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was reportedly so prone to such verbal slips that the word was coined using his name. What else could you do for a man apt to say things like, “You’ve tasted two worms” (wasted two terms) or “our shoving leopard” (loving shepherd)? Spooner often denied that he made those errors, but his legacy—myth or not—will always be with us as long as our mouths continue to work faster than our brains.
Ah, the dream of a word nerd … to live forever in our language …