Chris Johnson: Is there a time and place for swearing?

June 24, 2012 

I’m totally against swearing in public, yet I’m always a little wary when governments start trying to legislate morality as the town of Middleborough, Mass., has with its new swearing ban. Well, unless it’s making idiots pull their pants up, which I’m all for. (I guess you can call me a hypocrite on that if you want since I’m also against “lawyer dress” such as functionless coats and ties in July, but I’m also against showing everybody your drawers. Common sense lies somewhere between the two.)

When I was growing up, we didn’t need a city government to ban swearing. Swearing issues were handled by dad’s belts and granny’s switches, not by $20 fines. Whatever works, I guess. Although, it might have been counterproductive because it’s pretty natural to swear when you sit down on a recently whipped backside.

And there are times when swearing is perfectly acceptable. Sometimes, @&%#! just doesn’t cut it. When you stump your toe on the bed in the middle of the night, it’s awfully hard to yell “ASTERISK, AMPERSAND, PERCENTAGE SIGN, POUND SYMBOL THINGY, EXCLAMATION POINT!” It’s hard enough in the middle of the day to remember in what order you’re supposed to yell that.

Even my sweet, never-miss-a-Sunday-at-church Grandma cussed. Although, her lone dirty word was “hockey.” And she only said it to aggravate my grandfather, who thought “hockey” was a dirty word. Of course, he was kind of grumpy and got irked by many things … such as heat, cold, oxygen, animals and other humans. And since hockey involves cold and humans, it was bound to really @!%$ him off.

My other grandfather was a member of Darby’s Rangers and had his legs machine-gunned offin Tunisia in 1943. As a child, I went with him to an Army reunion in Columbus and met the two men who loaded him onto a truck after the firefight. At first, they wondered if he was dead and if they should move on without him. According to them, he raised his head at that point and said, quote, “Y’all better put my #@$%& on that $#@$&! truck!” I’d say that was warranted swearing.

When I had the most thankless job in the newspaper business, copy editor, I heard a lot a swearing, including from my now-retired manager, who for a couple of years sat directly across from me. He seemed like a mild-mannered fellow, but he muttered curse words all night long – and he was $@&!- ing good at it! He could use the F-word as all 11 parts of speech, which is amazing because there are only eight parts of speech.

There are other times when swearing is probably warranted: When you find out your son downloaded 47 Lady Gaga videos and ex- ceeded your data plan by 2 gigabytes. When you do your taxes. When your wife swerves to avoid running over a cat and hits a semi instead. When you realize your mild wings are actually “nuclear.” And when you order a sausage biscuit and the fast-food worker says, “Sorry, sir, it’s 10:31. Breakfast is over.”

Speaking for myself, though, I’ve pretty much cut out cussing because it rarely seems to make any situation better. Well, except one. Let’s face it. When you stump your toe on the bed in the middle of the night, it’s your only recourse.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Follow him at Fa  .

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