Those !!?#@#!X# cornflakes
The story is told of two young brothers who decided they were old enough to swear. At bedtime one night they agreed that the next morning they would begin swearing. They even chose the cuss words they would use.
At breakfast the next morning, their mother asked the oldest boy what he wanted for breakfast. The lad sat up straight and said, “Ah heck, Ma, I’ll have a bowl of those !!?#@#!x* corn flakes.” His mother slapped him across the face and scolded, “Don’t you ever say that word again!”
She then turned to the younger brother and demanded, “What do YOU want for breakfast?” The boy timidly responded, “Well, I guess I don’t want any of those !!?#@#!x* corn flakes.”
While the younger brother’s naïveté may be amusing, the proliferation of profanity ̶ especially among children ̶ isn’t. Over the past few decades, our society’s language has slipped deeper into the gutter. Unfortunately, many youngsters are learning profanity not only on the playground and from movies and television but directly from their parents. More recently, they’re also learning it from some of our national leaders.
I am the oldest of six children ̶ four boys and two girls, in that order. Profanity was forbidden in our childhood home. Even in their most exasperating moments ̶ and with six kids there were many ̶ our parents did not use profanity. In the rare exceptions when something stronger than “golly” slipped out it hardly qualified as profanity.
There was, however, no question when our parents were upset with us. When Dad had “had enough” with one of more of his sons, he got red in the face and, regardless of who was misbehaving, called out all our names: “Arvid! Gerald! David! Paul!” Frustration has a way of doing that.
With no improvement in our behavior, he did another roll call. Still there was usually no improvement.
Our final warning came when Dad started hollering in Low German. “Pas op!” (loosely translated, “Watch out!”) Dad warned. He then barked a reminder ̶ still in Low German ̶ that if we didn’t behave he’d smack us on the butt. “Butt” was not a naughty word in our home, in English or in Low German.
Through it all, the strongest words I ever heard from Dad were some barnyard terms in Low German. Dad was a World War II vet so I know he knew worse.
Though her approach was different than Dad’s, Mom was a strong disciplinarian, too. And like Dad, Mom didn’t cuss either. Though Mom would sometimes scold us in Low German, too, her tone of voice provided an ample early warning system for when she had “had enough.” Our mother also knew a few of those Low German barnyard terms.
Now, just because swearing was forbidden in our house doesn’t mean we kids didn’t know how.
I confess to having had a potty mouth when out of Mom and Dad’s earshot. We always knew when one of our brothers learned a new vulgarity because he’d use it on us siblings repeatedly for a few weeks. Even my sweet little sisters were known to cuss in a heated squabble.
Some 60 years later, I still struggle at times with cuss words. Dad always told me to use a substitute for a cuss word ̶ “baloney,” for instance. I argued that when I hit my thumb with a hammer “baloney” is not the first word that comes to my lips.
Fortunately, I know some of those Low German barnyard terms, too, and they provide more relief than “baloney.”
While I detest the verbal sewage that is plaguing our society these days, I am aware of a perplexing paradox. Some of the most foul-mouthed people I have known have hearts of gold. And some of the most mean spirited, self-centered folks I have known are sanctimoniously appalled by profanity. Personally, I can handle some profanity more easily than white-washed malice.
It is a shame, though, that we have been so exposed to profanity and blasphemy many folks don’t realize it is offensive or inappropriate. Like the little brother, they fail to understand the problem is not with the corn flakes.