"Oh, fudge."

Only he didn't say "fudge." Ralphie, of "A Christmas Story" fame, admits through voiceover that he actually used the mother of all swear words to express his feelings after spilling a hubcap full of lug nuts into the snow.

For the linguistically naive, or those who haven't seen the classic Christmas movie, Ralphie explains that he actually spoke the "F dash, dash, dash word."

A trip to the bathroom and a taste of Lifebuoy soap was his punishment for uttering a word he had heard his father proclaim many, many times. Children of that era (and maybe a few yet today) found themselves punished for "cussing" by having their mouths washed out with soap by a shocked, disappointed and disgusted mother. (I'm quite certain many of those moms were guilty of the same verbal offense, but less likely so in public as today.)

Three years in the Army exposed me to many new and vile ways of expressing myself, though many were not that new to my ears. I'm told that the Navy has the monopoly on words that would cause sensitive people to blush; but I'd put my Army comrades up against the most prolific swearing sailor.

I'm old enough to remember when men who swore in the presence of proper women were quick to say, "Excuse my language, ma'am." Always made me wonder why they never apologized to men, with the possible exception of clergy. I know all the "dirty words" and especially during my stint in the military, expressed myself profanely a lot. That was before my bride was around to sternly remind me that no one wants to hear me demonstrate my lack of intelligence by swearing.

A series of news outlets have recently reported on a study that indicates quite the opposite of my bride's contention. Swearing, the study finds, is more common among people of greater intelligence. This may be "fake news," but their statistics seem to bear out the link between intelligence and "cussing."

One of my favorite preachers was a man whose words brought me closer to God on several occasions. He had no reservations about using words many people find offensive, though I never heard him utter the one that would merit a meal of Lifebuoy.

Another study I read recently (though I have not been able to find it again) indicates that swearing relieves stress. It doesn't mention the stress placed on those offended by bad language.

One of the kindest men I know finds it hard to complete a sentence without punctuating his remarks with an expletive. Again, not a Lifebuoy candidate. Popular culture less and less finds swearing improper, as evident by posts on Facebook, movies and television productions and even everyday conversation.

Comedians lace their acts with profanity because, frankly, it makes the audience laugh. To their credit, producers frequently "bleep" out such language, though there is little doubt about what is being said.

When we were children, we might have thought swearing indicated a degree of maturity, simply because adults got away with it without a soap diet. I make no apologies for being offended by people who choose to dress immodestly, sell products (and even themselves) through suggestive behavior and by using themes and language inappropriately deemed "mature."

The more this type of "maturity" is tolerated and not called to question, the further downhill society will fall.


Tom Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.

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