Jon de Vos: Swear for the health of it
October 7, 2010
Do you swear?
Not like on a Bible, no, I mean, do you cut loose with a string of profanity now and then? An article in Perspectives on Psychological Science by Timothy Jay notes, “Swearing is like using the horn on your car, which can be used to signify a number of emotions (e.g., anger, frustration, joy, surprise).” Jay goes on to say that virtually everyone swears. Sometime.
“People have a sense of catharsis. They feel better after using this kind of language. Most people look at swearing as a bad thing that you shouldn’t do, without asking what the positive aspects of it are.” So swearing is bad, but healthy for you.
Mark Twain learned to swear from river boat captains. He later claimed he learned so well that when he swore, his breath smelled of brimstone.
A May 30, 1909, New York Times article said, “Bad manners cannot be corrected by law … it would be as sensible to pass a law prohibiting Wisconsin legislators from eating peas and pie with a knife as to try to check the use of expletives in common conversation by statute. Indeed, the general course of state legislation throughout the country this last year has been such as to drive the mildest-mannered citizen to profanity.”
Gen. George Patton was famous for his withering vulgarity. He said, “You can’t run an army without profanity, and it has to be eloquent profanity. … Sometimes I just, by God, get carried away with my own eloquence.”
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A potty mouth might get you arrested. A woman, Dawn Herb, in Scranton, Pa., started vividly cursing at her overflowing toilet and yelling at her daughter to get the (expletive) mop. Through the open window, a neighbor caught wind of her earthy language and shouted back, “Shut the (expletive) up!” Well, this startled Dawn but allowed her to get a second wind. She dug deep and came up with some particularly choice phrases usually reserved for a Chippendale Review.
Mortally offended, the neighbor, an off-duty cop, retaliated in a neighborly manner by calling the on-duty cops and complaining about Mrs. Herb’s foul language. The cops came and charged her with disorderly conduct. She faced 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
So she called the ACLU, who agreed, this is America and nobody should be jailed for cussing out a toilet. Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia, took issue with the citation, saying, “We bring one of these cases a year and sue some police departments because they do not remember that they are not the language police.”
So Dawn wound up suing the city of Scranton for violating her right to scream obscenities her toilet. She won, recovering her legal expenses and $19,000 for the pain and suffering of the cops erroneous arrest for cursing her bathroom fixtures.
Swearing is protected, whether you like it or not, in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, effective Dec. 15, 1791, that states that “… Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
You can swear like a pirate in Norfolk, Va. It’s an urban place where public profanity is now legal because the city determined a ban was unconstitutional. During a concert at Town Point Park the cops arrested a bewildered California rapper who, like rappers everywhere, dropped the F-bomb during his performance. The city became a laughingstock across the nation and dropped not only the charges but the law as well.
But slide on over to Virginia Beach where the city council enjoys being mocked. Every block of the main Atlantic Avenue sports a sign with a red circle and slash through characters standing for cursing. Swearing in public is treated on a par with public drunkenness.
It’s just a lot better for you.