Monday, August 6, 2012
Learning No-No Words
I don't remember the first bad word(s) I learned. But I remember the first time I got slapped for one. I was in high school (sophomore?), in the kitchen, while my mother was preparing supper. Here's how I choose to remember the incident: I dropped a glass or maybe a plate; it broke; Mom spoke a sharp word or ten to me about being careless; I whined I was just trying to help; she slapped my sophomore face.
Then--in the manner of any other slapped adolescent--I mildly, calmly, maturely asked, Why did you do that?
And she said: I will not have my son say "Hell" in this house.
She chose not to accept my mild, respectful denials and protestations. And for, oh, fifty years or so I've carried a bitter grudge.
I also remember a rite of passage--the first off-color story my father told me. My father, by the way, never told really dirty jokes. Just mildly naughty ones. Which nonetheless greatly annoyed my mother, who, as I have said here before, would have thrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and would have loved to have bitch-slapped Hester Prynne.
Dad's story involved a drunk getting on a bus. Spilling his change all over the floor as he tried to pay. Staggering back to the only empty seat. Right next to a Dunkard minister, who was dressed very conservatively (as you would expect). The drunk, looking the man up and down, says: Hey, buddy, what are you?
I, sir, am a Dunkard pastor.
Shake, buddy--that's what the driver just called me!
I can still remember my dad affecting the diction of a drunk, can still see his face red with pleasure as he laughed far more than I did. Still--it was a moment of revelation for me. My father knows a dirty word!
Throughout my boyhood--and beyond--I acquired more and more naughty words and phrases, mostly from my friends at school and Sunday school. Though, soon, the mass media chipped in. It's part of our cultural education, you know? Dirty words are the first things we teach foreign exchange students when they come here--though many, in my experience, come with rather full quivers already.
And last night ... watching a Kevin Nealon comedy special on cable ... I learned another one. He said to the audience, I'm going to tell you now about the time I crop-dusted Jack Nicholson.
The crowd went nuts. Joyce and I looked at each other, our eyes asking Do you know that one? Crop-dusted? Neither of us knew it--or admitted so. (My eyes were telling the truth. You'll have to ask her about hers ...) But it was quickly evident from the context what he was talking about.
And so our education--if not our schooling--marches on ...