By J. Michael Willard
The late comedian Lenny Bruce was jailed for saying most of the seven dirty words that the more recently late George Carlin made famous.
As for me, I’m a prude. Really, I have sensitive ears.
But, and this is indisputable, I believe in free speech, even to the point of sticking up for law abiding bigots, a tiresome, depressing but necessary duty when it comes to the First Amendment.
Ironically, I would prefer seeing an obscenity on the written page than an exclamation point, though both can startle with the impact of a loud snore during a funeral.
Our current president uses exclamation points like GI Joe tossing grenades from a fox hole. Sometimes they are in sets of three, which, in a nod to common sense, seems overkill.
Words and phrases should imply emphasis, not some silly trinket at the end of a sentence. Basically, the exclamation mark suggests the person is insecure and immature, and has to shout to be heard. In a rational world, an interesting and emphatic sentence can whisper.
I put the semi-colon in a different category, but I didn’t object when novelist Kurt Vonnegut called them “transvestite heraphrodites representing absolutely nothing.”
This, most likely, stems from my traditional liberal-mindedness, and not believing any sexual divergence — even that of a semi-colon — anything other than acceptable. I am lacking forgiveness, though, on hideous exclamations, which I believe represent language porn.
When it comes to certain off-color words, though, I am ambivalent about their use but not the venue in and around which they are unleashed.
As a mere tyke of eight, I remember my father at an Oklahoma campground walking over to a couple of drunken bruisers and saying, in his quiet way, “You folks keep the cussing down. We have women here.”
He didn’t have to swear or spit out an exclamation point. It was a Gary Cooper quiet American showdown and it ended peacefully. I remember being relieved. I feared my father had met his Waterloo.
Growing up, the F-word was for failure in school; and, on rare occasions, it was used as the absolute nuclear obscenity when other expletives seemed to have the impact of marshmallows against a wall.
Today, this particular word is fairly common in business, and in every walk of life. It’s a solid Anglo-Saxon utterance made popular by leading ladies who appear in almost the same type of romantic comedies in which Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds acted in yesteryear.
Only they said, “Aw, fudge.”
Still, my squeamishness over the F-word is probably an age thing. I do use it on occasion, though hardly ever with a lady around and never with children.
It does populate my fictional books, and I make no apologies. Still, it doesn’t approach the preponderance of four-letter missiles in a Quentin Tarantino script.
For sure I thought it appropriate when a lovely lady showed up at a event in Ukraine with a tee-shirt which said: “F&*K Putin.” But, as you can see, I am still reluctant to write the word for this essay.
The F-word today has received institutional status and most likely is used by your blue-haired grandmother on occasion, at least out of earshot.
Some years ago former Vice President Dick Cheney uttered the expletive, I assume as an action verb, when he suggested on the US Senate floor that Sen. Pat Leahy “F-off.”
The Senate, for those of you who are not that familiar, is a place where people refer to one another with comity and superlatives, no matter how much they would like to put the other’s head in a meat grinder.
As I grew in the newspaper/wire service business, I learned that the obscenity was one of the 20 or so basic words in the journalist’s everyday language. I was certainly not immune to the culture.
Still, I am queasy about its general use. It has become so common the words are tossed out like confetti at a parade. Still, the word probably has more impact than those silly “emotion” icons some people use in emails and in social media.
Maybe the problem with those icons is that there is not enough emotional range, and an F-You icon should be added. I have no idea which form it would take, or even color.
I would hope it wouldn’t be overly graphic.