Dirty Words
January 17th, 2011

I still remember my first dirty word. I was a lad of seven, sitting on the basement steps watching my mother as she labored over her washing machine. “Tit,” I said. It was a word I had picked up at school.

Mom didn’t respond—not right away, that is. She waited until the clothes had all been put through the wringer and hung on the clothesline to dry. Then she sneaked up behind me and swabbed my tongue with hot pepper sauce. I had no idea why.

Later, after I had stopped crying, she explained that she had punished me in order to teach me a lesson. And it worked! Ever since, I have taken care always to sit with my back to the wall so no one can sneak up behind me.

In the years that followed, I acquired many new words, some of them dirty and others that merely sound dirty. For instance, I have been chastised for using the term “bastard file.” And “niggardly.”

Those who have jumped on me over the years all have one thing in common: they are basically ignorant. And I suppose that’s why they’re now going after Mark Twain, of all people. Yep, Mark Twain, the greatest of all American wordsmiths, is having his mouth washed out by the same sort of feeble-minded folk who see nothing wrong in allowing their children to read books by James Fenimore Cooper or Richard Paul Evans or Glenn Beck.

I’m not going repeat Twain’s bad word here, because evidently it’s such a bad word that wherever it appears, no matter the context, it is taken as a hateful racial slur. So let me just say it is the name of a character in the book THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Let’s call him African American James, and let’s say he is on a raft floating down the Mississippi—previously known as “Old Man River” but more recently “Elderly Gentleman River” in order to avoid recriminations from the senior citizen lobby. Along the way AAJ encounters an assortment of buffoons, blowhards, con men, scoundrels and backwoods bigots, also known as the Tea Party. Oh, wait! I made that last part up. That’s what happens when you start putting your words into the mouths of others; you distort history and make it impossible for young people to get a grasp on how things were in bygone days. They’ll grow up thinking Laura Ingalls Wilder came of age not in a little house on the Minnesota prairie but on a little set on a television studio back lot in California. Whenever they picture a frontiersman, they’ll picture…Michael Landon!

May I make a suggestion to all those concerned parents out there? Volunteer to chaperone a field trip at your local middle school. Give a listen to the language kids use nowadays. Then when you get home, after you have washed your ears out with soap, pour yourself a drink and curl up with a good book. I would strongly recommend almost anything written by Mark Twain!

-Richard Menzies