Monday, November 17, 2008

I’m so #@*%! sorry

It’s come to my attention that a certain number of impressionables are occasionally checking in on this blog and that means I’m going to regretfully have to renege on a previous promise.

When I was sketching out the likely future of these writings, I’d broadly hinted that they would contain lots and lots of profanity. There’d be, I’d said, ribald references, double and triple entendres, and the kind of straight blue profanity you hear in foxholes and on construction sites.

Not now.

I don’t want to risk corrupting any of the youth with language they’ve been warned repeatedly against using by austere authority figures at home, school and in their churches. Corrupting morals in the cyber way is such a tawdry business.

Especially as long as I still reserve the right to enjoy doing so in person. One of the great thrills of corrupting an innocent is seeing an alarmed and electric look steal across their faces when they realize that always being good isn’t always the only option. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to drop an unexpected f-bomb in an inappropriate place like, say, a classroom of higher education.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to teach undergrad and grad journalism students at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. One of the first things I always do -- right after urgently advising them against having anything to do with journalism -- is to announce that the class will include profanity.

I do this because you can see the jolts of increased enthusiasm ripple through their postures. I may only do so two or three times the entire semester, but the announcement gives me a license to swear, sort of making me agent “Double Oh S---!”

I don’t know what it is about forbidden words that makes them so deliciously enticing, but that’s simply the case with so-called swear words and any of the other fruits we forbid. Just try watching the sanitized version of “The Sopranos” on A&E.

I cringe for the franchise whenever I see an enraged Paulie Walnuts about to ventilate some hapless bookie and having the puritanical censors dub in place of a stream of vicious profanity, “You bad stupid man!” before he commits a more ballistic sort of obscenity on the person.

Val and I are enormous fans of Seinfeld-creator Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It’s loaded with wonderful, over-the-top profanity that always keeps us cackling.

Alas, it’s a topic with which our 8-year-old daughter, the product of two profanity-spewing parents, is beginning to struggle. She’s forever narcing on one or the other of us for saying words she’s apparently heard forbidden in the second grade.

For me, it’s been fun watching her learn about rudimentary profanity from her mother in traffic, her mother at card-gobbling ATMs, her mother running late and her mother whenever her father’s too hungover to do simple household chores like brush his teeth.

Two years ago she enlivened the Thanksgiving Day table by matter-of-factly announcing “The f-word rhymes with Chuck.” My white-haired mother’s reaction was as compelling as anything ever produced for “The Waltons.”

But I didn’t flinch. I’ve told her many times there are no bad words. There are only bad times to say some words like, for instance, right after the Thanksgiving meal blessing. Still, it dismays me to see our societal revulsion of some of these great, colorful words is so formidable that she is being coerced into thinking that some words are too powerful, too awful to ever be uttered.

To that I ask the universal question (but will paraphrase in keeping with my pledge to sanitize this forum), what the heck?

A perfectly timed blast of profanity is always a welcome addition to any otherwise stoic conversation. It frees up the minds. It expands the boundaries and bestows a sort of democratic camaraderie that brings noblemen and peasants to the same level.

For my part, I will continue to shout profanities from the rooftops, in the classrooms, on the golf courses, from atop my bar stool and anyplace where a single well-timed profanity might jar free men and women everywhere into realizing that we all lose when language is shackled to a caste system of good or evil.

Because the judicious use of profanity doesn’t denigrate man, it ennobles him.

I swear.

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