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By Marc Jennings
Not long ago, I made a conscious decision to improve the quality of my language. It seemed to me that talking like I did when I was younger is a bit unseemly for a 61 year old man. But, speaking of how I used to talk, it was quite bad. In fact, it was atrocious. The term “salty language” does not even begin to scratch the surface. And it all started in high school, at FHS.
The funny thing is, I don’t know how it got started. It wasn’t that kids from a particular elementary school used a lot of profanity and it influenced the rest of us once we were all at FHS. I’m sure this was not the case. Fact is, the origin is just unknown. But what is known is that we cussed a blue streak in high school. And, we took it with us. In fact, years later, when I joined the Marine Corps, I had a lot of Marines and drunken sailors complain about my language: “Dang, Lieutenant! You sure do cuss a lot.”
“My Cousin Vinny”, a 1992 film starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, is a favorite for Darlene and me. Its outdoor scenes were filmed down the road in the little town of Monticello (Jasper County), Georgia. The un-edited version of the film had a lot of f-bomb this and f-bomb that in it, but was child’s play compared to our language. The story of the movie allegedly takes place in Alabama, and at one point a character exclaims, “This is Ala-f-bomb-bama!” We invented that. In fact, inserting the f-bomb in the middle of a multi-syllable word was a specialty of ours. We developed the ability to instantaneously determine the precise two syllables of any word between which the f-bomb was most appropriately placed. We could go on for hours.
Yet, we had no trouble suspending our profanity in school, at home, or among the young ladies we were so interested in. Oh, there might have been the occasional slip once in a while from one of us not paying attention, but this was the rare exception. Generally speaking we knew and willingly observed the limits of propriety in our speech. But among ourselves, it was anything goes.
I have been a serious student of the US Civil War and Reconstruction period for almost twenty years. At that time in our nation, even in the large armies that fought across the land from 1861 to 1865, people rarely used profanity and almost never wrote it. If it was in a text describing a particularly hot battle, the reference was to “h---, or d---,” as in Yankees. When swearing, as it was referred to then, was used rarely its impact was much greater on the occasions it was uttered. In our case, we would pack a conversation of the most mundane things full of profanity. And of course, it lost all its meaning.
I have long been aware of the extent to which we cussed in high school, but never thought about why. Now that I have chosen to write about it, I think we may have adopted that manner of verbal expression as a way to bond ourselves together. The same reason some of us wore Alpha Chi jackets and “wheat jeans” and Weejuns. At no other time in our lives was it so important to be part of a group; to be together, to be close. Adopting a uniquely profane manner of speaking among ourselves was another way of saying, “we are a group of buddies and the friendship we have is special”.
Since college, you could count the number of buddies I have had on one hand and have a couple of fingers left over. We had a special time at Fairview and experienced many things for the first time. But it meant nothing if we could not share it with our close friends. I miss those times but their memory still means a lot. And come to think of it, I’m just going to keep on cussing.