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Readers' tips to curb profanity

August 13, 2003

No column I've done in the past year has drawn more comment than my July 23 lament about the proliferation of profanity in public speech, specifically the widespread use of the "f" word.

Determined to do more than gripe, on July 30 I wrote a second column, in which I asked readers to share their ideas on how to stem the tide of spoken filth. To make it interesting, I offered a $50 chance on a Carnival Cruise, where in the best of all possible worlds, those who speak crudely would be removed from the buffet line and tossed overboard.

But before I get to the entries, I wanted to share some information from a recent CBS MarketWatch story by Russ Britt about how the use of the "f" word affects a film's rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Britt reports that a single use of the word earns a movie a PG-13. Twice or more results in a R rating most of the time, though studios can appeal. In other cases, Britt reports, they cut the offending word from the script. Of course, if they don't care, they leave it in.

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Therein lies the problem. At one time people understood that just because a character in movie spoke profanely did not mean that the rest of us were free to do so. Not so long ago to curse meant one had momentarily lost control of one's good sense, as I've done after whacking my thumb with a hammer. No more, and what follows are some readers' suggestions as to what to do about it.

A man who asked not to be identified said that the problem is that people "seem to have lost the time and the patience for anything."

Just as I am offended by rude speech in public, he would rather not see those rude bumper stickers and decals on cars and trucks which have crude messages.

A more pro-active suggestion came from Cathy Snesrud of Hagerstown, who is the mother of teenage sons.

"I've attempted to plant the idea that any idiot can use the "f" word and that those who are intelligent don't need to. Also I have tried telling them that people will think they're as intelligent as they sound."

Snesrud says the boys have cleaned up their language around her, but maybe not when they're out of her hearing.

Barb Pengelly of Hagerstown had a similar suggestion. Tell your children not to use the "f" word, refuse to let them play with those youngsters who do and don't tolerate its use by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Write to TV and movie producers and tell them to stop using those cuss words, she said.

She blames the media and music industry in particular for endorsing profanity to sell their products.

Pastor John Miller wrote to say that when he's out with his wife and children at a restaurant and someone speaks crudely, he goes over and tells the person nicely that their speech is interfering with his family's enjoyment of their meal. It always gets results and there's never been a nasty reaction, Miller said.

Irene Rosenberry of Clear Spring said that "the only way to try getting rid of profanity would be teaching a small child morals. If it isn't done at home and church, it isn't a part of a child's life; then public schools will need to step in."

I'm happy to report they are, at least in Washington County, with a program called "Character Counts." When I go the Hagerstown YMCA in the morning, I see a Character Counts poster on the door to the gym that asks players to have respect for each other and not use profanity.

Maybe, Rosenberry said, if the schools teach the child that profanity is wrong, the children will tell their parents to knock it off. That could work. Some children have taken the anti-smoking message home with great success.

Linda Jones of Martinsburg, W.Va., wrote to say that profanity is a problem, but so are racial slurs. She mentioned a recent letter about an African-American child who was called the "n" word by a teammate.

Racial slurs certainly are a problem, which I have written about in the past. But in my experience, most people in this area have come to realize that whatever they may feel, using racial epithets is not acceptable. Not so casual profanity.

On that topic, the best suggestion - and the winner of the $50 chance at a cruise - came from Linda Shives, a former schoolteacher.

Shives said a few years back when she had lunch duty outdoors at a local middle school, students felt free to use profanity while outdoors.

"I stopped it, within my hearing at least, by carrying a roll of toilet paper with me. Whenever I heard an overflowing of bad language I handed the speaker a piece of toilet paper with the suggestion that he surely needed it since he was suffering from "diarrhea of the mouth..."

"How about badges with a picture of a roll of toilet paper and the question, 'Are you suffering from diarrhea of the mouth?' "

Because I'd rather make people think than confront them, I'm not sure that's the message I want on my button. But the idea of having something to hand out makes a lot of sense. And when I figure out just what my button will say, I'll share that. For her suggestion, Sylvia Shives wins a chance at a Carnival Cruise. To everyone else, thanks for participating.

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