Monday, June 05, 2017


I've always been intrigued by the idea of "profane" speech.  Perhaps it has something to do with my childhood.  Whenever I think of a "naughty" word, I get this bitter taste in my mouth--the distinct flavor of Ivory Soap.  I'll never forget the first time I repeated a "dirty" word (I must have been around 7 or 8 years old).  My mom was horrified.  "Where did you hear that?"  Of course, I didn't know.  A little boy can't remember what he heard an hour ago much less who? said what? when?  Anyway, I do remember what happened next.  With a stern look of disapproval, she marched me into the bathroom, lathered up a wash rag with Ivory Soap, and proceeded to "wash my mouth out" since it was "so dirty."  One never forgets the taste of Ivory Soap.

I only made that mistake once more.  My brother Denny, however, didn't.  He cursed like sailor around mom (he had a particular affinity for the f-bomb).  Sometimes, after letting one fly, Denny would head for the bathroom unfazed by the routine (I had begun to wonder if my brother had developed a taste for soap).  After the umteenth time of hearing Denny let one fly, mom changed her tactic.  She grabbed Denny by the arm, escorted him to the bathroom, grabbed a new bar of soap, shoved it in his face, and said, "Take a bite."  I watched from the hallway, wondering what he would do.  After some hesitation (and mom's insistence), Denny finally nibbled a little corner off the edge.  "That won't do," at which point mom shoved the bar into his mouth and made him chomp off a tobacco-sized plug.  Denny winced as he chewed on the white bite, foam pouring from his six-year-old "dirty" mouth..  "Keep chewing till I say so.  Don't swallow it.  Keep chewing."  Denny never spoke profanities in mom's presence again.

Profaned speech is culturally conditioned.  We decide what is vulgar and what isn't (and the list changes across time, across cultures).  In fact, the word "vulgar" comes from the Latin, "vulgarus" which means "common."  The term was used by the educated class to describe the low-brow language of commoners.  To speak in vulgarities, to use "profane" (common) speech, was a sign that you were not only uneducated but also inarticulate--unable to use the proper word at the proper time due to your limited vocabulary.  The same thing happens today.  Notice how some people use the f-bomb like a gap-filler when they can't think of anything else to say.  "That f***in' lawnmower won't f***in' work because the f***in' mechanic didn't fix the f***in' engine."  I usually don't walk away from that guy and think, "Wow.  He's brilliant."

And, why do we call it an "f-bomb"?  Obviously, some profanities are more explosive than others, which brings me to the point of this post.

A well-known, often crass, comic used a profane word the other day and it created quite a stir.  Now, that sentence alone should raise an eyebrow because comics are notorious for their profanities.  But, this was no ordinary vulgarity.  In fact, I would say the word he used has risen to an even higher level than the "f-bomb."  He used the n-word.  And, as a result, even this brash, arrogant, take-no-prisoners, abrasive, foul-mouthed personality was brought to the point of contrition (I must say I took a little pleasure in his mea culpa--something I never thought I 'd hear him say).

So, lest you think that profanities are old fashioned, a relic of the old days--that we've become more sophisticated due to our ability to accept vulgarities--know that even a guy like Bill Maher has to watch his potty mouth.