“How” and other “bad words:” A-OK

May 20, 2013

I bought a nice Mother’s Day card recently for the long-suffering Tricia.  It carried a sweet and sentimental message – “Screw the laundry.” 

As Tricia does almost all of the clothes washing around our place (EEOC disclaimer: I do the dishes), and is definitely not the easily-offended type, I knew she’d appreciate it.  But the card got me to thinking about words that used to be taboo, and now are A-OK.

In the legendary late ’60s, there was huge controversy over the publication of a magazine called “Screw.”  Now, it was a pushing-the-envelope pornographic magazine (crossed with radical-chic politics) but the name itself was considered outrageous.  Now, they’re literally printing “screw” on Mother’s Day cards.

Another one is “suck.”  As a veteran of radio going back to mid-’70s, I can tell you that, in those days, saying “suck” in any context that did not have to do with a soda straw would cause men in suits to frog-march the offender to the parking lot.  Fast forward: Not too long ago I heard radio talk-show host and traditional-values defender Dr. Laura Schlessinger using “suck” in the modern vernacular.

A school days story:  In fifth grade, my friends and I were playing flag football at recess.  A kid on the other side claimed a bogus first down.  “How?” I asked incredulously.  “Ahhmm! (at that time, the universal 10-year-old exclamation for, “I’m telling!”) You said ‘h-e-double-l’!”  In vain, I argued my case to my teacher Mrs. Hudson, a stalwart defender of propriety; I spent the next hour in detention.  When do you think the last time a fifth-grader was placed in the stocks for saying “hell”?

Other words no longer relegated to the barnyards and back alleys, and indeed, freely spoken on the airwaves (in deference to the Gentle Reader, I bowdlerize these words):  As*. B*tch. F*rt. T*rd.  I take no pleasure in this; my dear mother would have caught the vapors upon my speaking any one of those.  I merely observe and comment upon the passing parade.

I understand the George Carlin argument that using “bad words” is a way of throwing off oppression (He could’ve argued my case to Mrs. Hudson … and sat in detention with me.)  But words have meaning; they can elevate and they can debase.  Are you feeling more “elevated” or “debased” these days?