David Bruce: Profanity Anecdotes


A woman used to say “God!” whenever she was annoyed, which was several times a day, so her son — a regular attendant at Sunday school — decided to teach her a lesson. He called out, “Mommy!” She responded, but then he did not say anything. He did this five times in one day, and finally his mother said, “You don’t have anything to say, so why do you call me all the time?” Her son replied, “Mom, I called you five times, and already you have lost your patience. Each day, you call ‘God!’ more than five times. I wonder whether God has lost His patience with you.”

Barry Took, the man who first proposed the teaming up of six British comedians into the comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, took their side in the battle against censorship. After Monty Python started working on their TV series, the head of BBC Light Entertainment, Tom Sloane, said to Mr. Took, “Excuse me, Barry, I’ve just been looking at a playback of Python. Does John Cleese have to say ‘bastard’ twice?” Mr. Took replied, “Yeah, if he wants to.” There was no more discussion, and the word appeared twice in the sketch.

Fred Terry, the husband of Ellen Terry, enjoyed swearing in the company of men, but he did not swear while in the company of ladies. Once he felt it was his duty to speak to a young actor who had been swearing in the Green Room Club and urge him to use a better kind of language. The young actor was unconvinced and said, “I seem to remember, sir, that I have sometimes heard you use fairly strong language in the Club yourself.” Mr. Terry responded, “God all bloody mighty! I’m the f***ing President!”

The men soccer referees in Derby, England decided that they didn’t want to officiate the games of the women soccer players, so in 1973 they start teaching women to be referees. Why? Because the language of the women soccer players was too strong for the male referees; as an official explained, “Although the ladies’ keenness is commendable, [male] referees who officiate at their matches rarely want to do so again. … The language can be quite startling.”

Some controversies involve words. At a Mississippi high school, parents of the players on the football team were upset because they said the coach had called the players “chicken****,” so they held a meeting in an attempt to get the coach fired. Country comedian Jerry Clower’s wife, Homerline, stood up at the meeting and said, “I was trying to think of what word would describe the way they played the other night, and that’s the word.”

On a very dark, very rainy night, actress Coral Browne and a man were on opposite sides of a street signaling for a taxi. A taxi stopped, both dashed toward it, and Ms. Browne got it in first. The taxi driver told the man, “Sorry, but I saw the lady first.” The man hadn’t even seen Ms. Browne in the dark, so he looked around and said, “What lady?” From inside the taxi, Ms. Browne replied, “This f***ing lady!”

Lesbian author Valerie Taylor was on Studs Terkel’s radio program one day and she said the word “screw.” One of the radio personnel said, “We’ll have to blip out ‘screw.’” Ms. Taylor responded, “I thought I was being nice. What I really meant was ‘f***.’” Afterwards, Studs sometimes asked Ms. Taylor as a private joke, “When are you gonna come on my show and say ‘f***’?”

Umpire Eric Gregg was bilingual, and sometimes he tried to help Spanish-speaking baseball players with their English. Once, catcher Tony Peña asked him, “Where the hell was that pitch at?” Mr. Gregg replied, “Tony, you can’t end a sentence with a preposition. You can’t end a sentence with ‘at.’” Mr. Peña was a quick learner. He said, “OK, where the hell was that pitch at, a**hole?”

Sir Ralph Richardson acted in the play No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter. The play contained some swear words, and Mr. Pinter said that he would not change the language, even for television. Sir Ralph, however, wondered if that was wise, saying, “What about the American sales? Is it worth losing all that lovely money for the sake of saying f***?”

Barbara Bush could speak her mind. Once, a heckler asked her husband, President Bush, a question about abortion. Ms. Bush whispered to a friend, “Now there’s a b.s. question.” Then, after listening to her husband stumble around for a while trying to answer the question (or possibly to avoid answering the question), Ms. Bush whispered, “And there’s a b.s. answer.”

Irish playwright Brendan Behan was sitting in a London pub and speaking Gaelic with a lot of his friends when the porter said to him, “Speak English and stop making a show of yourself.” Mr. Behan said later, “You can judge for yourself the reply he got from me in the mellifluous tongue of Shakespeare, Milton, and Johnson.”

Joel Perry went through puberty at the same time his mother was going through menopause, which meant that they had some interesting arguments. Once, he got his mother so angry that she shouted at him, “You son of a bitch!” He laughed and pointed at her, and then she started laughing, too.

As a young recruit for the British armed forces during World War II, Spike Milligan was occasionally assigned to guard duty before going overseas to fight. However, he was not an intimidating guard. He used to say, “Halt! Who goes there?” But the other soldiers answered him by saying, “P*ss off.”

In one game, the Seattle Supersonics were trailing Vancouver by nine points at halftime. Later, Supersonic player Vin Baker was asked what coach George Karl had told the team in his halftime talk. Mr. Baker replied, “I’m a minister’s son. I don’t repeat those kinds of things.”

What counts as profanity changes over time. In the days of vaudeville, this sign used to be posted in Keith Circuit vaudeville houses: “Don’t say slob or son of a gun or Holy gee on stage unless you want to be cancelled peremptorily.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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