Guest column: Making the case for judicious profanity
By R. Barry Cronin
While all profanity is wrong and never acceptable, perhaps there are those extremely rare situations in which, while still inappropriate, its use may be at the very least understandable.
Consider this: There are basically two kinds of profanity. One we can call “gratuitous.” Gratuitous profanity is just that. It is freely given, and consequently, has no value. In other words, it’s worthless. It’s crude, base and ugly. Gratuitous profanity is the kind we encounter every single day — on the streets, on TV, in the movies, and in the printed word. It is ignorant and offensive. It is also totally unnecessary. The English language has so many other wonderful alternatives.
“Judicious” profanity, on the other hand, is significantly different. For one thing, it is very rare and may only be employed when no other words seem to fit. In fact, it is the only time I can think of when profanity could actually be considered forgivable. I was driving to work at Camp Pendleton one pre-dawn morning three years ago in my beloved 1999 Ford Mustang, rolling through the back roads of Bonsall without a care in the world. Suddenly, without warning, an out-of-control BMW comes flying around the corner, straight at me! Ka-blam!! Head on! Both cars totaled, reduced in the blink of an eye to two, twisted, smoking wrecks on the side of a little country road in the middle of nowhere. Terrified my car was about to catch fire, I frantically kick at the caved-in door with all of my might, eventually forcing it open enough to where I can roll out onto the ground. It is at this very moment in time that an expensive, high-end SUV rolls to a stop in the road, directly in front of me. I stagger to my feet and face my savior. The other driver is still inside his destroyed automobile, fate unknown. Thank God — help is here! The window rolls down and a matronly woman’s face appears. Never in a million years could I ever have guessed what this good Samaritan was about to say. Nothing about calling 911, are you OK, have you been hurt? None of that. She leans out and with a hideous sneer on her patrician face that I will never forget, she cackles triumphantly. “Ha! That’s what you get for racing!”
To say I was nonplussed would be a grave injustice to the English language. I was completely stunned, but only for a moment. In an instantaneous rage, I roared out in fury. Four words only. The first two comprised my introductory statement. “Hey lady!” The fourth was the second person pronoun. The third word was the big one, the bomb, the queen mother of all dirty words. She was totally unfazed. From her lofty perch, safely ensconced within her comfortable and expensive chariot, her majesty smugly surveyed the smoking scene of destruction and human misery one last time, harrumphed dismissively, and calmly drove away. Surely the milk of human kindness did not flow freely through this woman’s veins.
Was I right to say those words? No. Profanity is always wrong. Do I regret saying them? Not really. In truth, I am not sure what else could have been said.
That is my own case study in what I would consider the use of “judicious” profanity. Can you see the difference between the two? The point is simply this, unless one can tell a story like that, then all those foul and terrible words we seem to hear (and use) all the time should probably never, ever pass our lips. Everything else is just gratuitous.
Cronin, a Poway resident, is deputy chief of police at MCAS Miramar.
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