COLUMNS

DeWayne's World - What was your gateway curse word?

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

When the woman called I was out of the office. Her message made it clear she was not happy about something she read in the Peoria Times-Observer.

Despite her anger she was civil and not a single curse word left her lips in the message. When I talked to her Nov. 29 she was still angry, but civil and laughing by the end of our conversation.

I was struck by that.

When people get angry these days curse words fly.

So, I went looking for cussers. I’ve learned in my years in Peoria there are two prime repositories for swearing — CityLink buses and the Peoria County Courthouse.

I hopped on the Monroe bus.

It took me past Woodruff High School close to 3 p.m. There, about 20 students got on.

About four seconds after they got on silence was replaced by the rat-a-tat-tat of profanity.

The bus driver had gone about 20 feet when he pulled the bus over.

“I’ll park this bus and we’ll miss the lineup if the language doesn’t stop,” the bus driver said.

A teenage girl across the aisle from me, turned around and faced her classmates.

“This is bullbleep. Shut the bleep up. I want to get home,” she said.

Again, I was struck by the use of language.

This girl used the very language the bus driver was upset about to quell the language the bus driver was upset about. And, it worked.

The students’ use of curse words did bother me. I say that, knowing full well I’m a hypocrite. I swear on occasion. Most of the time bad words slip out in anger.

I imagine it comes as no surprise I love words.

Curse words themselves don’t bother me. Oddly, it’s their use by other people that bothers me.

But, maybe they shouldn’t.

Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond in the classic movie, “Inherit the Wind,” defended curse words eloquently.

His dialogue included, “I don’t swear just for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. I think we should use all the words we’ve got. Besides, there are damn few words that anybody understands.”

That leads me to a question: Do you recall your gateway curse word?

I do. It was 1972. There was a new sound on rock radio stations. It was Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly.”

Sitting in my father’s pickup listening to the lyrics, I heard: “Hard to understand — what a hell of a man.”

My dad heard that and said, “Don’t let your mother know I let you listen to that.”

Hell — a word that nowadays does not even raise an eyebrow — was my gateway.

I came across a 2006 survey of curse word use by Americans.

The Associated Press/Ipsos poll asked 1,000 adults, 18 and older, about their use of profanity.

“Seventy-four percent of Americans report hearing profanity in public either frequently or occasionally; 66 percent think swear words are used more often than 20 years ago; and 46 percent say they use profanity two times a week or more,” the poll found.

“The study also found that 67 percent of polled individuals said they were bothered by others’ use of profanity, though they reported using profanity themselves.”

We live in a world of revolving double standards — one for ourselves and one for the other guy. Here I am, a Peorian — proud to tell people I live in the birthplace of Richard Pryor, a man who turned profanity into a comedic art form — and I’m upset by the indiscriminate use of curse words by others.

There is no easy answer to this double standard I find myself trapped in. 

So, I went to my boss, executive editor and co-publisher, Beth Gehrt for her counsel. 

She sent me a batch of quotes about profanity she looked up.

Dale Adams said, “Profanity is the result of a weak mind trying to express itself forcibly.”

American novelist Tillie Olsen had a different take stating, “There are worse words than cuss words, there are words that hurt.”

George Washington, apparently no fan of cursing, said, “The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”

But, Mark Twain, a lover of words, said, “Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”

That’s a contrary set of opinions and not much help.

Gehrt, however, said something profound about words.

“We should treat words with respect,” she said.

I think she is onto something.

If we treat our words with respect, those they are directed at will be shown respect as well.

I’m willing to try harder to curb swearing. What the hell.