If you say it softly, it’s not so bad. Now what’s that supposed to mean?
Well, it’s a conclusion I’ve reached after years and years of observation as to how people choose to express themselves. Shouting out a word — if you overlook the possibility of rousing someone from slumber — is worse than whispering it.
Let me explain:
Some people, loath to use the f-word, or the b-word, or the s-word, or any other alphabetical sequence-word, tend to downplay it, to reduce it to a mere whisper, on the assumption that if they utter the word softly, there’s no harm, no foul. A high school classmate, upset over the grade he got in chemistry, once told me in a quite audible tone, “That teacher’s an ---” He hushed the descriptive word he was about to use, and all I could hear was a barely audible word that had to have begun with a vowel, as indicated by the fact that he used “an” instead of “a.”
Now, reader, please try to realize the difficulty in writing about so-called “bad words” when it’s our newspaper’s policy to keep it clean, to write purely in prose that’s pleasing to plenty of people. Hence my vivid recollection of the manner of speaking by my former boss, David Giuliani, now reporting for a newspaper in central Illinois. Each morning, as I reported for work, I’d ask David, “What’s the latest scoop.” One time he told me of an elected official who had invited members of the press to “kiss my green and gold a--.”
Note that the “a--” serves a dual function: first, it keeps me from spelling out the word that indicates the posterior, the derriere, the part of the anatomy intended by the speaker; it also highlights the fact that utterers of the alleged offensive term reduce the volume. That way, they can always claim they did not use “that word.”
I once thought I’d heard a friend utter “God almighty!” when she dropped something frangible in the rain. Now, Sister Rosario Grandote, our homeroom teacher, and all the other nuns at Immaculate Conception School, admonished us to watch our language and never be profane. The butter-fingered student successfully explained that what she really had said was “got all muddy.”
But does it really matter what a person says? Isn’t the meaning behind the words what really counts? There is no phonetic difference between “damn” and “dam,” yet one is a no-no, and the other represents a structure that’s going to solve all of Las Vegas’ water problems.
Another observation is of people who seem to believe that if they lower their voice when revealing something important, the hushed tones denote a secret. We used to have a neighbor who apparently loved sharing family secrets, without really seeming to. She didn’t want to appear indiscreet when out in the street. Once the neighbor, in the course of telling us all about family, lowered her voice and whispered something unrevealable about her 16-year-old daughter: “I think my daughter is drinking when she goes out on dates. But I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this in confidence.”
Fair enough, but on her walk, our neighbor soon came across yet another over-the-back-fence companion; they exchange pleasantries, and within seconds, she discussed Missy’s imbibabilities. Now how many people need to be in on the secret — given without coercion — before it ceases to be a secret? The definition of a secret is something we keep until we meet the next person. Without seeming like Señor Apathetic, there are times when I’d rather not even hear about people’s kids’ libation quotients. Usually it’s safer not to know — and not to pry. When the secret runs full circle, some people either swear the other person forced the secret out of them, or else they claim, “It was a secret. Why, I only told it to 17 of my neighbors, my in-laws and the UPS and FedEx guys.”
So, the way we express things either as supposed secrets or supposed euphemisms says a lot about us.
Even when we whisper them or try to camouflage them with a sound-alike.
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Clean up after your pet. That admonishment appears both at the Plaza and Carnegie Park. The placement of plastic bag dispensers is a good idea. But it works better when the dispensers are serviced. It’s unlikely the stashes of bags have been replaced in months. Let’s walk the talk as we walk our pups. There are too many cases of people’s shoes picking up some of that canine s-word.
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Why is it that of the six electronic message boards owned by the East and West school districts, only two of them (one for each district) are operational?
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.