Is Cursing Such a Big F—ing Deal?
I was at my two year old niece’s birthday party when it happened.
My 5-year-old son Michael was playing with a large group of children when as clear as a bell he called one of the other children “Pucker Face!” Only he didn’t say “Pucker.” Like the good son of a TV newsman, he used alliteration.
It was as if the earth stood still. The entire party came to a stop. Children pointed at him. Some parents laughed, others showed disgust, and everyone was looking at me and my wife. Thinking quickly, I followed the lead of others and looked at my wife and pointed.
My wife said defiantly, “He doesn’t even know what that means.” It wasn’t a great defense, but I went with it. Until my wife said, “He heard it on TV.” I then went back to looking at her and pointing; because now every adult at the party has a vision of me, Dawn, Michael and our 3-year-old son David enjoying a Saturday night at home while watching “Scarface.” [SIGNUP]
I am not certain that is where he came up with the word, but it makes sense. We were called to his school one time because Michael called his kindergarten teacher a “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerf herder.” Apparently the teacher is not a Star Wars fan.
I am not certain that Michael got the word from TV; he does get creative with his name calling and may have just hit the reaction jackpot when he discovered the “F” word. But it is nearly impossible these days with YouTube, cable remotes and even some “family” movies to keep your kids from hearing curse words. And when the Vice President of the United States uses the F-word at the signing of the health care bill, it is either time to wave the white flag or throw the red flag. (By the way, the face that President Obama made when Biden said, “This is a big f-ing deal, is the same face most of the adults at the party made when Michael said “pucker face.”)
Before I go on, let me take a moment to make the obligatory “We never use that language,” incredulous parental defense. In Dawn’s case, that’s absolutely true. Dawn says things like “jiminy” and “oh for goodness sakers.” Sometimes I feel like I’m married to Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. And me? I am embarrassed to say I have dropped a few F-bombs in my day. I’ve worked in newsrooms my whole adult life, which are like brothels in both job description and atmosphere, only the language is worse. Once, while taping a political report in the WPEN radio newsroom, I said the s-word 28 times in front of an open mike. I also creatively sang the s-word while looking for a new tape. The whole thing made air. The fact that I didn’t get fired is testament to how little I was being paid.
But I can say without hesitation that I have never uttered the phrase “pucker face” in my life; nor have I cursed in front of my children.
I am not one someone you would call “foul-mouthed.” But still, my father, John Robert Mendte, would be disappointed even at my limited cursing. As the saying goes, he would not say poop if he stepped in it. There is a legendary family story about my father, who was well known in the neighborhood for despising all obscenities. My older brother Bobby had some friends over and they were watching an Eagles game, when one of them yelled out the “F-word” in front of my dad. The young man quickly turned and apologized. To which my father said, “No need to apologize to me. You just couldn’t think of an appropriate adverb or powerful adjective. It’s the sign of a lack of education. You should apologize to your parents.” Needless to say no one cursed again in front of my dad for the duration of the game or for years after the incident.
People like my father would have the right to chastise Joe Biden; most of us would be hypocritical.
Although I despise public cursing at sporting events and in songs blaring from cars stopped in traffic, I am not getting on an Internet soap box here. I briefly followed the philosophy of general semantics that attempts to remove the emotionality from words. I also loved when Lenny Bruce and George Carlin exposed some of the undue power we assign words.
The problem is, not everyone follows general semantics, or thinks Lenny Bruce and George Carlin are funny.
I also have a first batch of children, Stacia and Jonathan, who are in their twenties. I have taught them that they can’t just worry about the weight or meaning THEY give those words; they must consider the weight and meaning that OTHERS give those words. Many others will think of you as a vile, uneducated lowlife if you curse. And since you have no idea who feels that way, it is best not to use those words when there is an entire dictionary of better ones to use, especially when it could cost you opportunities in life.
It is a lesson that both Joe Biden and I need to learn, as I read in the Christian Science Monitor that Biden is a potty mouth from way back, probably from back when he was five years old and blurted out “Pucker Face!” at a child’s birthday party.
See, my son could grow up to be Vice-President.
When the time is right, I will have the “Words Define You” speech with my youngest sons. But for now I need to make certain that we don’t give too much attention to his future “Biden eruptions.” And I need to clean up my own act, both in and out of newsrooms.
“Jiminy” is not going to work for me. But I kind of like “stuck-up, half –witted, scruffy looking nerf herder.”
LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post on Mondays and Thursdays. His video commentaries are seen on Tribune television stations across the country. You can view them at www.wpix.com.