David Bruce: Profanity Anecdotes

• Harry S. Truman occasionally used profanity, something that Richard “Expletive Deleted” Nixon tried to make a campaign issue when he ran for President against John F. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy responded, “I would not want to give the impression that I am taking former President Truman’s use of language lightly. I have sent him the following wire: ‘Dear Mr. President: I have noted with interest your suggestion as to where my opponent should go. While I understand and sympathize with your deep motivation, I think it important that our side try to refrain from raising the religious issue.”

• President Abraham Lincoln once reviewed the first corps of the army. Being driven to the place of review by an ambulance composed of a wagon and a team of six mules, President Lincoln listened for a while as the driver cursed his six mules, then he asked the man, “Are you an Episcopalian?” Startled, the mule-driver replied, “No, Mr. President, I am a Methodist.” President Lincoln then said, “I thought you must be an Episcopalian, because you swear just like Governor Seward, who is a church warden.”

• Janette Porter was the daughter of a preacher. While in elementary school in the early part of the 20th century, a classmate whispered to her that she had just had an evil thought and asked what she should do. Janette whispered back, “Just think about flowers … and music … and JESUS.” Joy at finding exactly the right word to say made her say that word much too loudly, and her teacher and most of her classmates were shocked to hear the preacher’s daughter “curse.” As punishment, she had to stand in the corner of the classroom for an hour.

• As a young man, H. Allen Smith attempted to join a Greek letter fraternity that was not connected with a university or college. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the grade and was not accepted into the fraternity. To get revenge, he invented a new fraternity. The name consisted of three words denoting a vulgar expression, the first word of which was “Go.” A Greek friend translated the expression into Greek and Mr. Smith wrote several articles for his newspaper about the fictitious fraternity.

• The Reverend Joseph Twichell taught Mark Twain how to ride a bicycle. When they were taking a bicycle ride one day — Mr. Twain somewhat unsteadily — they came to a large stone in the middle of the road. Mr. Twain headed right toward the rock and didn’t know what to do to avoid hitting it and crashing. Reverend Twichell offered advice, but Mr. Twain replied, “Shut up, Joe. You ride ahead. I’m going to swear like hell in a minute.”

• Even preachers sometimes make mistakes. Church of Christ preacher W.A. Bradfield was closing a sermon with a call to the altar and was doing his best to call the unrepentant to come to the altar and repent: “Oh, why don’t you come? You daddies, for your children’s sake, why don’t you come? Oh, why don’t you come, you husbands, for your wives’ sake? Oh, for heaven’s sake, why don’t you come? Oh, why in the hell don’t you come?”

• Dave McKinley was a retired publisher who once saw his granddaughter deliberately step on an ant, so he lectured her on how wrong it was, because ants were defenseless, and lived in ant farms, and had electricity and running water, and taught us all a lesson about keeping busy, etc. At the end of his lecture, his granddaughter said, “Grandpa, you old son of a bitch, I love you.”

• Samuel Johnson went to a market to buy fish, but he discovered that the fish at a certain shop were not fresh. The woman selling the fish argued with him and insisted that the fish were fresh, so Dr. Johnson called her a noun, an adverb, and a verb. Because the woman didn’t know what those words meant, she thought that Dr. Johnson was insulting her.

• John Downes, in his 1708 book Roscius Anglicanus, Or an Historical Review of the Stage, tells of an early performance of Romeo and Juliet, in which a Mrs. Holden enters and says, “O my Dear Count.” Unfortunately — but to the amusement of the audience — Mrs. Holden left out the letter ‘o’ in the word ‘Count.”

• The language old-time muledrivers used was something awesome to behold. One muledriver stopped to invite his frontier preacher to climb aboard for a ride. Unfortunately, the muledriver was quickly forced to disinvite the preacher — as long as the preacher was around, the mules didn’t understand a word the muledriver said.

• The baseball captain of Hamilton College was hopping mad about an error by an umpire long ago, so he was spewing out a steady stream of four-letter profanity. Suddenly, he noticed that the President of Hamilton College was standing nearby, so he changed his swearing to “Good gracious!”

• Actor David Niven enjoyed using bad language — over 400 four-letter words had to be edited out of his first book. However, Mr. Niven so liked his friend Fred Astaire, who didn’t use bad language, that he refrained from using four-letter words in his presence.

• Donald Ogden Stewart frequently used bad language in mixed company. Once, he called a certain writer a horse’s ass, but when he saw that he had offended a lady, he immediately apologized: “I’m terribly sorry, Toots. I didn’t know you mind the word ‘horse.’”

• Hank Caplan was a TV director in Canada who constantly used a favorite expletive. After finishing work on a production, the actors working with him gave him a present — a box of toilet paper.

• Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was once thought to have mouthed the f-word in the House, but he claimed that the word he was mouthing was “Fuddle-duddle.”

• Governor Huey Long of Louisiana (1893-1967) once said about the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan: “… when I call him an s.o.b. I am not using profanity but am referring to the circumstances of his birth.”

• “All pro athletes are bilingual. They speak English and profanity.” — Gordie Howe.

• “When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.” — Mark Twain.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved



John Ford’s The Broken Heart: A Retelling, by David Bruce


William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure:  A Retelling in Prose, by David Bruce


Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist: A Retelling, by David Bruce



David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.

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