Wednesday, August 17, 2005

At least that's what we called it in Indiana during the 60's.

Being a keen observer and sometime participant of the passing social scene, I have noticed a change in the way we swear. I guess it's not so much the way but the words. A misplaced blow from a hammer or erratic fellow driver, still elicits the same emotional response but it seems what once was a cuss word isn't any more. You now hear little old ladies and other regular churchgoers, emitting words that only a truck driving, longshoreman/sailor would have said in the past. It also seems the consequences that were once tied to cussing no longer exist, even for a young cuss.
"Did you hear that Ricky Kowalski's Mom washed his mouth out with a bar of soap for saying ..*..?"

Not only is this discipline not applied anymore, it's almost physically impossible, due to the the fact that the little nozzle on the hand squirters most folks now use, would probably become entangled in the little cussers tonsils.

I have always had a layman's interest in the origin and evolution of words, particularly cuss words. Aside from my oldest son, who always insisted that our family cat taught him swear words(I ask you, how much credibility can you place in a person who says he was taught to swear by something named Kaboodle?), I figure that cussings origins clearly lie with the humans. In that light, I figure Adam was a likely suspect, as the first "cusser", simply because he was the first man and after all, God did have him name everything.

As far as the cuss words themselves, it seems there were always gray area words like gosh, darn, dang or heck, shoot, shucks and cr*p. Now, those gray area words of the past have been shoved aside and words that were once considered hard core cuss words have been shoved in to replace them, i.e., h*ll, d*mn, p*ss, t*t, d*ck, b*tch(and its ghettofied mutation, bi*tch), A*s, sh*t and the only two that really bother me, God and Jesus Christ. It seems that in the U.S., f*ck is the only hold out as truly offensive. I know that I'm new here's OK to use the Lord's name in vein but you can't drop the f-bomb? What does that say about what we have come to revere? Even he/she/we/it/they/you s*ck, which claims it's 60's origins as a sexual reference, is now uttered regularly by everyone from 2 year olds to pastors.

In olden times there was a wide swing in the latitude with regard to the cussing idiosyncrasies of each family. As an example, in my family the word cr*p was not considered a swear word but sh*t certainly was. It was interesting to me, in that, both are slang terms for a bodily function, or the product, there of. Both words, cr*p and sh*t are a rarity by functioning both as noun and verb. Contrary to etymological(I had to look that word up to make sure it wasn't a cuss word) myth, cr*p is not derived from the late, great Thomas Cr*pper but from an Old English word meaning residue from renderings.

I think every family, in the 60's, had a "cuss list" of words that were just not allowed. Now, I can't say that families actually had a printed cuss list, at least we didn't. I think maybe Mr. Dressler, our neighbor who was an engineer may have, of course, he printed up "To Do Lists " for his toddlers and on occasion, when his girls were older, was known to tell them "I banish that word from your vocabulary", but he was an exception. It seems that everybody knew, one way or the other, what was allowable within their own family and what was not. I uncovered many of the words that appeared on my families list one Sunday morning, when we were getting ready for church. I was about 7 and was standing in front of the hall mirror attempting to get my Brilltine soaked cowlick to behave. After several frustrating moments, I let loose with a string of asterisk filled words that I had just learned from the new neighborhood kid, Allan Huber or "Spitty", as my Dad called him (referencing a nasty little habit that Allan had). The Huber's had a much shorter list than we did. In fact, it may have been nonexistent. I won't ever forget the shocked look on my parents faces, peering around the corner at me, as I continued to work on taming my hair and filling the air with a blue streak.

For the most part though, I think our family suffered from CD (Cussing Dysfunction). I once remember hearing my Dad, while wood working on his bench and nearly severing a limb, say only "gosh dang it". Also, we were never allowed to say "shut up", "pee", "poop" or "butt". We mostly said anatomically correct things like bowel movement, breast, penis and rectum. The fact is, prior to the "Allan Spitty Huber Incident", my cussing, to a great extent, was nature based and very creative. As family legend would have it, I once got so mad at my older sister Judi(the homecoming queen, you know the type), that I screamed at the top of my lungs, "you''re .. a...a....a...TREE EGG!" That combination of words hardly had the effect I hoped for when I let them fly. Even as it exited my mouth, in fact, as "TREE" past by my incisors, I already regretted saying it. Once my family stopped laughing, a new nickname was born, which actually was a huge improvement over my previous one (A.K.A. Weenie Head).

I do, however, think that there is some credibility in the belief that it's not the word but the delivery that helps define a cussword. Ever listen to the way some folks say B*sh or Cl*nton? But I digress.....

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