David Bruce: Profanity Anecdotes

Chris Crutcher used profanity while he was growing up in Idaho, and profanity peppers some of his books for teenagers, such as Stotan! When his first book, Running Loose, was still in the editing stage, his agent suggested that a certain two-word phrase that was used frequently in the book might negatively affect sales, considering the audience for which the book was written. Mr. Crutcher agreed to remove the two-word phrase, and he jokes that by deleting the two-word phrase he turned a 300-page novel into a 200-page novel. During the time he spent editing the book, someone asked his mother where he was. She replied that she had not seen him for two weeks because he was busy “unf*cking” his book.

When they were children, young people’s author William Sleator and his sister, Vicky, taught their younger siblings, Danny and Tycho, cuss words. However, after Danny repeated the cuss words to their grandmother, they decided that they should try to get Danny and Tycho not to say the cuss words again. Therefore, they invented a word—drang—and told Danny and Tycho never to say it, as it was the worst of all cuss words. For a few hours, Danny and Tycho said the word drang every chance they got, but since no one was shocked when they said drang, they went back to saying the other cuss words—the ones that made adults look shocked.

Some members of Charlie Barnet’s jazz music decided to go swimming in San Francisco on a very hot day, so they plugged the cracks under the doors of their hotel room, turned on the water full force in the bathtub and let the water overflow. Eventually, they had a foot and a half or two feet on water on the floor, and they had a grand time “swimming” until the water leaked through the floor into the hotel room below. The hotel management, of course, was upset and brought in Mr. Barnet to see the damage. Mr. Barnet was also upset, and after calling his band members a few unprintable names, said, “The least you could have done was invite me.”

Ky Laffoon was known to get very angry occasionally on the golf course, and when he got angry, he was known to engage in profanity that profoundly embarrassed his wife, who left whenever she heard him using such language. Once, after promising his wife that he would not cuss because of his golf game, Mr. Laffoon made a mighty effort, but under great duress due to hitting his ball into a bed of honeysuckle, he let fly with some awful language. As usual, his wife started to walk away, but Mr. Laffoon ran after her and explained, “It wasn’t anything to do with the golf—I just don’t like honeysuckle.”

In The Exorcist, 13-year-old Linda Blair plays a character who uses horribly bad language referring to sexual acts. Many newspapers editorials were written against allowing a 13-year-old actress to use such language; however, Ms. Blair did not recite the lines. The really bad language was spoken by actress Mercedes McCambridge, whom Orson Welles had called “the world’s greatest radio actress.” She was also an excellent film actress, appearing in Giant and Touch of Evil.

Father Hennessy attended many practices of the Notre Dame football team, which was coached by his friend Knute Rockne. At some of these practices, Mr. Rockne exercised a remarkable talent for profanity, and at one point he let loose an oath that was so profane that everyone near the good priest looked at him to see what he would do. Father Hennessy merely raised his eyes heavenward and said “Glory be to God! There goes Rockne saying his prayers again!”

When he was 22 years old, actor Russell Crowe worked as a waiter in Sydney, Australia. A woman once ordered a cup of decaffeinated coffee and was surprised by what he brought her. She told him, “This is not decaffeinated coffee—this is just boiling water.” Mr. Crowe replied, “Lady, when we decaffeinate something in Australia, we don’t f— around!” (He was fired.)

Mark Twain enjoying swearing, a habit his wife deplored. One day, Mr. Twain cut himself shaving, and he unleased a steady stream of swear words. His wife, hoping to cure him of his bad habit, in a calm voice repeated every swear word he had shouted. Mr. Twain was unrepentant, merely remarking, “You have the words, my dear, but you don’t know the tune.”

Eugene Ormandy was once so displeased that he was ready to quit the Minneapolis Orchestra. He explained why to his manager, Arthur Judson—he had heard some of the musicians call him “a little son-of-a-bitch.” Hearing this, Mr. Judson simply laughed and told Mr. Ormandy, “Congratulations, you’re a real conductor now.”

Babe Ruth got into trouble when he was a boy, and so he had to go to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. When he grew up, he wanted other kids to avoid the mistakes he had made, so if he ever heard any children using profanity, he would yell at them, “Goddamn it, stop that goddamn swearing over there.”

As a child growing up in Edwight, West Virginia, Mary Carter Smith used to compete in cussing contests. Because she was so good with language, he always won. As an adult, she put her love of language to a much more socially acceptable use as an African-American griot (storyteller).

At an Army camp dinner, a soldier doing Kitchen Patrol duty spilled hot soup in a chaplain’s lap. The chaplain kept cool and didn’t curse, as so many other Army officers would have done, but he did ask the people he was eating with, “Will one of you laymen say something appropriate?”

Samuel Johnson was the author of an important English dictionary. To a woman who complained to him about the “dirty” words he had defined in the dictionary, he replied that she must have looked especially for those words.

Lillian Hellman was bored attending Wadleigh High School in Manhattan and claimed later that she had spent much of her time there using a dictionary to look up “naughty words.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Edgar Lee Masters: Roscoe Purkapile and Mrs. Purkapile (Spoon River Anthology)

Roscoe Purkapile

SHE loved me.
Oh! how she loved me I never had a chance to escape
From the day she first saw me.
But then after we were married I thought
She might prove her mortality and let me out,
Or she might divorce me. But few die, none resign.
Then I ran away and was gone a year on a lark.
But she never complained. She said all would be well
That I would return. And I did return.
I told her that while taking a row in a boat
I had been captured near Van Buren Street
By pirates on Lake Michigan,
And kept in chains, so I could not write her.
She cried and kissed me, and said it was cruel,
Outrageous, inhuman! I then concluded our marriage
Was a divine dispensation
And could not be dissolved,
Except by death.
I was right.

Mrs. Purkapile

HE ran away and was gone for a year.
When he came home he told me the silly story
Of being kidnapped by pirates on Lake Michigan
And kept in chains so he could not write me.
I pretended to believe it, though I knew very well
What he was doing, and that he met
The milliner, Mrs. Williams, now and then
When she went to the city to buy goods, as she said.
But a promise is a promise
And marriage is marriage,
And out of respect for my own character
I refused to be drawn into a divorce
By the scheme of a husband who had merely grown tired
Of his marital vow and duty.