Today's youth can swear circles around 'Les Miz'

April 01, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

This had to be planned, right? The Billsport High School drama team had to know that their production of the marginally bawdy "Les Miserables" would turn into a publicity-generating machine guaranteed to boost ticket sales like no production ever before.

If they get this much free pub out of "Les Miz," next year they may want to put on "Something About Mary."

"Les Miz" has a choice word or two - none of the really bad ones, the earth-shaking ones that cause you to grow hair on your hands or that would move the Bank of England to put doughnuts in the lobby - and some have chosen to engage their constitutional right to voice their disapproval.

Good thing those same people aren't around to hear the middle school kids getting off the bus near my house, or they might suffer five simultaneous heart attacks.


I don't know about test scores, but the advances made in profanity among our youth warms my heart with good old American pride. In this subject, I'd put our kids up against the South Koreans any day, and I don't care how low their student-teacher ratio is.

I remember riding the bus myself in junior high (we couldn't afford middle schools) and listening in as the ninth-graders argued over who was the first in the class to use various forms of profanity.

Many years ago, I still can hear one kid, clear as a bell, bragging that "I was the first one to use that SOB word." Even though he professed to using it elsewhere, he still couldn't bring himself to use it in full while riding an arm of the public school system.

As you have probably noticed, there are no such inhibitions today. I, no kidding, heard one student walking down the block last week proclaim:

"Dude, check out this #*!@&!. I made the %*#&@% honor roll!"

I couldn't help myself. I hustled up and grabbed her by the collar and said "Listen, punk, you think you're hot stuff, but I was using the word "dude" back in the '70s."

Eventually, though, I sat her down and tried to explain to her that profanity is an art form, and like fois gras it is best used in small dabs. Start saying it all the time and it loses its effect.

By now I had her attention, and she sat at my knee, gazing up at me like the Socrates of profanity that I am.

Under no circumstances, by contrast, should anyone but a Northerner use the word that sounds like mustard but begins with a "B." The "R" in that word should never be pronounced and a New Englander has no use for the letter "R."

Listen, I continued. There are other, more creative, more aesthetic ways of infiltration rather than just explosively disgorging a string of profanity like some grackle regurgitating a worm.

Obviously, I can't use any profanity in a column in a family newspaper, but does that stop me from sneaking stuff in?

Of course not, I told her. Sometimes I spell out a profane word with the first letter in every paragraph, and that makes it all the more sweet. It also serves as a diversion because it makes the editors paranoid, and sometimes they will be so intent on finding hidden letters that they'll accidentally let a joke about gay Eskimos slide right through.

"Kooky as it sounds, sometimes more is less and nowhere is this more true than in the case of profanity," I said. "So use it wisely, my child. Save and savor it, treat it as you would a fine wine, let it age well and pop the cork on it only for a special occasion when you wish to impress."

She was quiet for a time, gazing appreciatively into my eyes, a single tear running down her cheek. Finally she stood. And as she took a deep breath and brushed a lock of hair from her forehead, she said in a voice filled with gratitude, "Thanks for the advice, you piece of fois gras."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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