David Bruce: Profanity Anecdotes

• When she was a child, Tanaquil Le Clercq used to look at the painting Sacred and Profane Loveand wonder which figure represented Sacred Love: the fully clothed figure, or the nude figure? She was told that the nude figure symbolized virtue. Therefore, she was looking forward to dancing the role of Sacred Love in Sir Frederick Ashton’s ballet Illuminations—to be relatively unclothed is a blessing to a dancer, as too much costuming interferes with the ability to dance. Unfortunately, Sacred Love wore a lot of costuming in the ballet, whereas Profane Love wore much less costuming. In fact, the ballerina dancing the role of Profane Love wore one ballet slipper instead of two. However, this turned out not to be a blessing, as the ballerina frequently forgot which foot was shod and in going up on pointe with the unshod foot, she bruised all five toenails, resulting in some unballerina-like cursing in the wings.

• Opera singer Nellie Melba lived in the infancy of recording. She once tried recording, but as she listened to the screeching, scratchy result, she said to herself, “Never again. Don’t tell me I sing like that, or I shall go away and live on a desert island, out of sheer pity for the unfortunate people who have to listen to me.” That recording was destroyed. Of course, the process of recording improved, and she later made some recordings with the Victor Talking Machine Company. Also of course, a mishap occasionally occurred. For example, she had just about finished making an excellent recording when she tripped backwards over a chair and said, “D*mn!” Ms. Melba wrote in her autobiography, Melodies and Memories, “That ‘d*mn,’ when the record was played over, came out with a terrible clarity, making me feel much as a sinner must on the Day of Judgment.”

• Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame uses profanity a lot, but he did not use profanity around his mother and father because it would have made them uncomfortable. His mother read the Playboyand Rolling Stoneinterviews with him and said, “It’s amazing how they have to add all that swearing to how you talk to make it fit in their magazine.” He explained to her that he really does talk that way, but that he did not use profanity around her and around his father. She shrugged, and Penn is not sure that she believed him.

• Is it possible to know the exact time that you grew up? Yes, and a friend of book reviewer Matt Rudd knows exactly that. He was in a bar in Casablanca, and he started talking to a pretty woman, hoping to captivate her with his long hair, salty language, and fascinating—at least to him—life. The pretty woman was not captivated. She listened to him for a while, and then she told him, “Why are you swearing so much? Is it because you think it makes you sound grown up?” She left, and Mr. Rudd’s friend grew up.

• In his stand-up act, comedian Drew Carey uses a lot of profanity, but of course on his TV sitcom The Drew Carey Showhe could not use nearly as much profanity as he does in his stand-up comedy. In fact, he remembers his first memo from the network censor, who wrote about the script for an episode, “Please note the excessive use of ‘hell’ and ‘d*mn’ found on pages 4, 20, 21, 22, 28, 38, 40, and 52, and reduce this number by half.”

• Mark Twain was a true original. He lived for years in Hartford, Connecticut, whose most learned citizen was J. Hammond Trumbull. Mr. Twain was very impressed by him — because he knew how to use profanity in 27 languages. While Mr. Twain was living in Hartford, he attended a baseball game at which a boy stole his umbrella. Mr. Twain offered two rewards: $5 for the umbrella, and $200 for the boy’s corpse.

• Max Gaines, the father of William M. Gaines of MAD magazine fame, used to produce comic books on religious and educational themes; however, the creative process of turning a Biblical story into a comic story with only a limited number of picture panels sometimes tempted him to be profane. For example, he once screamed, “I don’t give a d*mn how long it took Moses — I want it in two panels!”

• Lessons can be learned in strange ways. John Wesley and Samuel Bradburn once witnessed an angry quarrel between two women who used bad language but who used it passionately and well and with their whole being. Mr. Bradburn was disgusted by the language and wanted to leave, but Mr. Wesley told him, “Stay — and learn how to preach.”

• One of George Balanchine’s dancers was known as “Evil Annie” because she was gifted at swearing. The dancers with whom Ann Crowell Inglish shared a dressing room used to tape holy pictures to her mirror — but they didn’t cure her habit of swearing.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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