8.31.2007

Eric Code, Rule #2


After watching my beloved alma mater to fall to the mighty Beavers of Oregon State (note to OSU: worst. mascot. ever.), I was in something of a sour mood when sitting down to write this post. In fact, ever since being cut off by the mini-cooper the other day, I've been pondering some of the more colorful metaphors I've overheard and been known to use on occasion. I can't help but wonder why some of the strongest words in the English language are so shunned in our culture. Obviously, they can be shocking and totally inappropriate. I think I once reduced my little brother Mikee to tears with a well-placed curse. That was bad form on my part, but interesting when looking back at it.

BYU's Honor Code reduces their language standard to the following:

Profanity and other crude expressions
"BYU faculty, staff, and students should avoid swearing in speech and writing; coarse expressions derived from profanity; displaying of pictures, posters, and other forms of expressions which are crude or suggestive; and expressions that depend upon allusions to crudity for effect."

In my revision of the Code, I would echo everything mentioned above, with the following addendum:

"...unless it's really funny."

You see, a well placed curse word--meaning at the right time, with the right emphasis, and the right audience--can absolutely lighten a mood, warm a heart, and create an atmosphere condusive to good feelings and relationships. I guess I simply resist the idea that curse words--and there aren't many of them in our language--inherently offend and abuse. It is the meaning and the context within which we frame those words that should be determinant of their power. I love words, well-written paragraphs, and well-executed stories. As such a word-lover, I just can't get behind a hard-line segregation of certain letters and words. My dear friend and former editor RuthAnne Frost once put it this way: "I don't believe in maintaining prejudice against words. I'm an equal opportunity speaker."

In her defense, RuthAnne is not foul-mouthed or offensive. She's actually one of the sweeter people I know (if you're reading this Ruthie, sushi's on me next time). To illustrate my point, and to prove to you that tasteful application of some of our stronger words can be productive, I give you two Swearing Stories, one negative, the other positive:

Once, while a roommate and I were perusing the tube on a lazy afternoon, the BYU women's basketball team popped up on The mtn. Network. Having just broken up with one of the players, my dear, usually innocent roommate muttered "Ah bunch of #$@%s." Mortified at his flippant use of a fairly derrogatory term synonymous with both a Dutch water retaining structure and a female homosexual, I said "Bro! Where did that come from?" To which he responded, "What?! It just means a bunch of lesbians, right?" I then carefully explained to him that, indeed, all curse words have a meaning to them, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should use them. To emphasize my point, I believe I explained that even our heaviest, R-Rating qualifier, has a real meaning to it: Fornication Under Consent of the King. He didn't appreciate that little lesson in English Language History much. But I felt the need to drive home the point that he had inappropriately and offensively used a curse word. It didn't matter that it didn't fall under the usual standards--my roommate was angry and hurled the word as an insult, feeling justiied because he wasn't "swearing," even though he intended it to be demeaning and hurtful.

Now, here's a great example of a good use of colorful language:

J. Golden Kimball--sometimes referred to as the Will Rogers of Mormonism or as the Swearing Apostle, depending on the present company. From the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia:

He was well known for swearing good naturedly from the pulpit, sprinkling "damns" and "hells" into his speeches. Although the habit was of concern to other church leaders, and subjected him to counsel from his close friend LDS President Heber J. Grant on many occasions, this common touch made Kimball one of the most beloved leaders in the history of the Church. Asked how he could get away with the way he spoke, Elder Kimball is said to have replied: Hell, they can't excommunicate me. I repent too damned fast.

This "folksy" style was backed by intelligence and deep spirituality, and Latter-day Saints would travel long distances to hear him speak at conferences.

"J. Golden" stories have become a type of folklore for members of the LDS Church. One of the best known has Church President Grant writing a "clean" radio speech for Kimball and ordering him to read it. However, once on the air, Kimball struggled with Grant's handwriting and finally exclaimed, Hell, Heber, I can't read this damn thing.

When addressing concerns about the behavior of the youth, Golden once told a congregation not to worry about the young people: "They'll be all right. It's all these old bald-headed bastards on the front row that you need to look out for."

Another time, while in southern Utah to speak at a stake conference, he'd ditched his traveling companion and headed off to a local restaurant for lunch. He was eating - a cup of coffee at the ready - when his companion caught up with him. Said his horrified and self-righteous companion: "Why Brother Kimball, I'd rather commit adultery than drink a cup of coffee." To which, J. Golden replied: "Who the hell wouldn't."

Now, if you got out of those last anecdotes without a smile on your face and were actually offended by Brother Kimball's language, I politely invite you to comment on this post so that I never have to talk to you again. To those offended few, I ask, what is swearing: spewing out a calous, demeaning slur that may or may not be considered a curse word, or light-heartedly employing some of our more under-represented words?



Think hard, damn it. Think hard...

4 comments:

madelyn said...

New Favorite Blog. Mainly because I know that there will be something wildly hilarious and well-written to entertain me every singly day!

Eric, Emilee, MaryElizabeth, Clara, and Andrew. said...

Eric, you are my favorite!! Hilarious!

Mel said...

Simply fabulous. And yes, I am totally excited at the idea of you going on a blind date with my friend! Send me an email at melbaker1202@gmail.com and we can talk about details.

Whitty Lin said...

Wonderful! This post makes me think of little Hermana Grawe who knew exactly where to place a funny swear.