|Fred is second from left, posing with some friends with much more respectable vocabularies.|
A recent Monday series about swearing on my Tossing It Out blog got me to thinking about the profanity in my own life. Some experts say that swearing is not used any more now that it has been in the past. I'm guessing that a lot of these so-called experts were born after the 1960's. I would disagree with the hypothesis they suggest. After I became of college age I noticed more swearing in society, but prior to that time whatever swearing I heard was very mild by current standards. I was a kid in the 50's and early 60's.
When I was a kid I would be amused on the rare occasions when my father would swear. The epithets that I remember were "Hell's bells!" or "Oh, balls!". We were taught to never repeat the word "hell" but the rhyming pair of words uttered by my father would always bring a snicker from me and my sister as long as he wasn't directly mad at us. And since my father was a juggler, "balls" was something we always associated with juggling. Again, I found it funny when my father would say the word, but I was reprimanded the time I used the word while trying to be funny.
My mother on the other hand used the much more arcane expression "Shite!" if she was really angry. We understood this to be worse than anything my father said, but still the word incited giggles from me and my sister. We were partly amused because she seemed funny when she was angry, which was rare. She never spoke like this around my father since he was against swearing for the most part. Especially if it came from a woman's mouth.
It was the fifties after all. It was a time when you could go someplace and most men would be dressed in suits and women in dresses. Decorum was the order of the day and kids were to be polite in all situations. I don't recall ever hearing anybody using bad language. My parents hung around with a lot of show people and all of them spoke very cleanly when the kids were around. Things were not as they are now.
From about sixth grade on I began picking up on various vulgar words, that is hearing them, but never uttering them. I was raised to use clean language and that has essentially stuck with me for the most part to this day. That is not to say that a good many of my friends were not relatively foul-mouthed.
Most of my friends had been raised like I was and kept the conversations clean for the most part. We didn't discuss things too crudely most of the time and we had a respect for women. But there were those few who could make me cringe with their language. Why did I hang around with them? Because some of them were fine men other than the language, while others were just friends in my circle that I tolerated because they were friends of some of my close friends.
One example that stands out most is my dear friend Fred. I've written about him on my blogs on other occasions. He was one of the closest, dearest friends I've ever had. He also had one of the foulest mouths I've ever heard. Sometimes I'd try to register my complaints about it and he'd just laugh it off. Fortunately he kept the language respectful when he was around my parents.
Fred had grown up in challenging circumstances from what I'd heard. His father was a soft-spoken man around me, but I could see where he might have an extreme temper if you were not on his good side. From the stories Fred told me, his dad was a mean fellow who gave Fred a rough time. Fred did not seem to have any great love for either of his parents, but he had more friends than just about anyone I've ever known.
There was that dichotomy of the offensive blasphemer and the golden-hearted guy who would do anything for a friend. I'd known him from early high school long into adulthood. He never changed much. I tolerated his bad language habits and enjoyed his company when he was around.
My friend Fred died at a relatively young age. He was in his early forties when he passed. As I think about it, most of my friends who had the foulest mouths are now dead. I'm not sure what that says. Maybe they were just wound up so tight they were doomed to go earlier than the rest of us. Or maybe a wild lifestyle that went hand in hand with their language led to their early demises. I think it's a good bet that both are true.
Have you had foul-mouthed friends whose language you tolerated because of who they were? Did you ever try to encourage someone to clean up their language? Do you know anyone past the age of 70 or 80 who is extremely foul mouthed?