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I’ve worked on construction sites, at a foundry and in the newsrooms of a half-dozen American newspapers. In all those workplaces, vigorous cursing filled the air each day, growing stronger when tools failed or deadlines neared. I can’t speak for the trades, but foul language is still common in newsrooms, muted somewhat by the efforts of our HR friends.
In 1914, this syndicated piece on the Minneapolis Tribune's "Family Circle Page" called for worthy substitutes for cursing, sharp enough "to make a truck driver’s ears tingle and yet not offend a clergyman." A century later, I ask you: What substitute curse words do you rely on in the presence of children, ministers and HR managers? At the Star Tribune, I’ve heard some shout “Oh snap!” and “Shizzle!” on deadline. Not bad, but there must be more satisfying cuss words out there, dag nab it!
In a cursory discussion on “cussing” in a British medical journal it was solemnly urged that some one really ought to discover a substitute for profanity.
Anger is a violent and dangerous emotion which liberates sudden floods of nervous force. This force was meant by nature to be expended in violent action, fighting, smashing or tearing. Civilization has put various restraints on this action and one must either vent the energy in some other way or grit one’s teeth and hold it in.
Women having been taught in prehistoric ages that physical combat was a losing venture with the stronger male, took to the relief of tears. When her fury goes surging and reverberating about her system, threatening to burn through the insulation of her nerves, she “short circuits” it by weeping.
Man, being ashamed to cry, discharges the lightning through language. By uttering a volley of profanity he has the feeling of damaging at least the feelings of those who overhear.
The angry person needs only to have a sense of damage done to be once more at peace with the world. As even the word “damn,” relieved of all its more pungent associates, has a more or less sacrilegious meaning, something else equally snappy and vicious-sounding should be found in its place.
Of course, the language is full of slang substitutes for profanity, from “Darn!” to the rural “Gosh all hemlock!” These are only feeble imitations of genuine “cuss words.” As far as they give any satisfaction it is through suggestion of the irreverent words themselves. What is needed, so this writer urges, is a sort of esperanto of profanity. It must be something which will make a truck driver’s ears tingle and yet not offend a clergyman nor be understood by a “perfect lady.”
Copyright, 1914, by the Star Company.