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On communicating clearly…

June 11, 2016

…without getting punished….

I don’t even remember how I got on the topic, but I’ve just spent an inordinate span of time trying to find a definitive roster of words, phrases, idioms, and thought balloons which I am summarily denied the freedom to use, and I’ve come to an enlightening conclusion. There isn’t one.

It reminds me of early childhood. I was sternly cautioned to NEVER utter certain words. I wasn’t told what they were, but being a resourceful child, I discovered them through the process of elimination, beginning with the venerable Anglo Saxon word for “excrement”, which I printed in block letters with a blue crayon in my table drawer in First Grade.

I don’t actually know where I learned these words because, believe it or not, neither my father nor mother used profanity. Well, for the most part. My mother was known to cut loose with a few minor expressions of angst on occasion, and not necessarily without just cause.

By the time I made it into junior high school, then, I had a fully developed repertoire of Potty Mouth that would make a sailor cry, and I was fairly adept at wielding it with a growing infrequency of contextual misfires. By the time I strapped on a Navy uniform, I could verbally peel paint, but, of course, I was told by those in authority, which was virtually everybody, that an officer and gentleman doesn’t use that kind of language. As had been the case from first grade on, the admonition and attendant real and implied threats were not accompanied by a list of what I mustn’t say. It was presumed, again, as I suppose it always had been, that I knew.

Later, in Corporate America, when I was given the opportunity to sport an appropriate charcoal grey pinstriped suit, white shirt, and a conservatively colored diagonal striped necktie, Windsor knot, and step into a pair of wing-tips, I encountered the same old manual I had under previous indoctrination procedures.

“Just be sure you never do THAT…..”

“Do what?”‘

“….You know.”

and:

“Just be sure you never say THAT…..”

“Say what?”‘

“….You know.”

A couple of years later, at a Regional Sales Conference in a major city, one attended by thousands of my peers, their Supervisors, their District Managers, and reportedly even God Himself (actually the company president….same difference, according to some), I met as man who had the audacity to break all of the rules. Now, I’d never seen so many pin-striped suits, white shirts, and wingtips in one place in my life, and when somebody with “credentials” told a lame joke, ten thousand grinning idiots laughed on cue. Well, I don’t recall the gentleman’s name but I’d say he must have been about forty (which was “old” to me at that stage), and he must have had outrageously elevated sales figures or been somebody’s brother in law, because he had on a rumpled blazer, grey slacks, non-descript shoes, and his hair was not exactly well groomed either. One of the Vice Presidents, a notoriously devout man and a stickler for propriety, was giving a presentation and had thrown out a general query regarding goals for the coming year. The man in the blazer barked out a rather ambitious claim, which got everyone’s attention. The VP challenged his ability to deliver on that, citing obstacles that would be in his way. The man considered the challenge for a moment and then boomed out, “Well, sir, there’s more than one way to kiss a cat’s ass without gettin’ hair on your teeth!

Except for a few unintended guffaws, the arena was dead quiet. Not only had the man DONE “that”, but he had SAID “that” as well. To this day, I suspect he must have been related to Evel Kneivel.

So, fast forward about forty plus years to the twenty teens, when, as seems to be the way of things, the populace is still being cautioned/threatened to never do “THAT“, or to say any of its cognates from the universe of the spoken and written word. For the most part, it isn’t so much a case of updating the list as it is a matter of adding on to it. That’s what I was curious about. What is ON that list, anyway. Not only do I remember George Carlin’s seven forbidden words being at the start of that list so long ago, but I remember the expansions and updates over the years, though I can’t recite the specific words off the top of my head.

Maybe nobody else can either, which would explain the lack of a list, but if people from the judiciary can talk sternly about “hate speech”, and the like, somebody must have a reference somewhere.

Be that as it may, I’ll wait no longer and have decided to compile such a list myself. It will take some research, and perhaps a bit of the old reliable trial and error, but I’ll manage. So many of the things that would have put me in the coat room for recess, earned me a session of my mother’s considerable potential for wrath. or put the kybosh on long term career plans in earlier times, would now potentially place me in front of a judge, or worse, at the mercy of bureaucratic vengeance. Either that, or it might make a third grader yawn.

My list will be organized into “sections”. I would say “families”, as that would be more accurate, but, believe it or not, the word “family”, according to blogger Dr. Joe Wenke in a Huffington Post article from September 1, 2013 I once read, “the phrase “traditional family values” is itself a form of hate speech,” apparently because groups not supportive of same sex relationships use it to describe, well, their opinion of what traditional family values might be. Like I’ve said, obscenity is a subjective concept

This could be an interesting study, actually. Times have changed, and as has been the way down through the ages, political juice has a great deal to do with whose mouth gets to chew on a bar of Ivory soap and whose does not. Today is reminiscent of (from what I hear), say, eleventh century England, when The Good Old Boys could pretty much call it as they saw it and everybody got along fine except for the recreational homicide, which, of course, was entirely normal as well as being the precursor for twenty first century election culture. That all went up in smoke, preferably lavender scented and with a lute played in the background, when those perfy Normans showed up to rewrite a perfectly functional Anglo Saxon dictionary and lay down an endless and ever changing cacophony of rules about where to speak and how to wipe.

It seems that much of George Carlin’s paint-peelers of the seventies are now standard fare on Prime Time TV, while the minor verbal noogies we used to toss around out by the swings at recess could today be reason for National Guard tents to show up next to the gazebo in the town park.

In any event, stay tuned (can I say that, or does that sound too much like “go tune yourself”….?)…

 

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One comment

  1. All I know is it took me two or three years to learn to say the “F” word. Now I’m fluent.

    Like



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