We once had an editor who tried to clean up language in the newsroom by proposing that anyone who said a bad word pay a quarter.
“Here’s a roll of quarters,” I said. “Let me know when it’s used up.”
I’m thinking along these lines after seeing Ogden Public Works Director Jay Lowder discussing a proposal by the city recreation department to ban swearing in public parks.
I never would have picked Ogden for a nanny state sort of place. Do we need government making sure our shoes are tied, our shirts tucked in and our mouths clean?
Even if we ignore the First Amendment free speech aspects of this, what the city fails to take into account is that, any time you have regulation, you spark efforts to get around that regulation.
Many Utahns don’t like being told “No!” Raise taxes on cigarettes and booze, they drive to Wyoming. Outlaw gambling, they drive to Malad and Wendover.
Outlaw cussing, and I bet some wisenheimer will provide a list of swear words that don’t sound like swear words but are, when you think about them, much worse.
That would be me.
We need new swear words anyway. The standard four-letter bunch have been overused to the point they rarely offend.
To cite the classic example, the movie “Gone With The Wind” was denounced from every pulpit in the nation because Rhett Butler told Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Now I can quote Rhett in a newspaper column meant for family consumption.
How bad is it? Go rent “The Big Lebowski” (which is rated “R”) if you want to see profanity overused to extreme. A YouTube video of just the bad words in that film goes on for several mind-numbing minutes.
When bad words are mind-numbing, they lose impact and encourage bad behavior. People who only know the few words they picked up in high school, and use them daily, must really scream and throw things to get a particularly virulent point across.
Proper swearing is powerful even when done quietly. A punch in the nose heals in days, but hit a guy with the right put-down, you can ruin his sleep for weeks.
So, purely as a public service, and not at all intending to denigrate the desire to clean up verbal intercourse in the public byways, here are a few highly literate and genteel ways to express yourself. Use these and, by the time a cop has found a dictionary and figured out what you said, you’ll be long gone.
All are courtesy of that founding father of the English language, William Shakespeare, whose tongue was very well-strung indeed.
• Umpire make a bad call in your kid’s softball game? Scream “You rampallian! You fustilarian!” A rampallian is a wretch. A fustilarian is a stinkard or scoundrel.
• Tell that guy littering he’s a “canker blossom, a fusty nut with no kernel.”
• That person in line loudly complaining on the cellphone is “an anointed sovereign of sighs and groans.”
• I think we can agree presidential candidates have “not so much brain as ear wax.”
• Tell that guy who keeps trying to give you a religious tract that “I desire we may be better strangers.”
• The guy who let his dog pee on your picnic basket is a “foot licker, idol of idiot worshipers.”
• Most every politician can be called an “infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker,” who is “false of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand.”
• And finally, how to respond to public officials who, however good their intentions, try to run your life?
“Quintessence of dust,” describes the situation nicely.
The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at www.standard.net.