June 22, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Clean Girls and Dirty Words

And they arrested me and handcuffed me and took me away in the patrol wagon.

Lenny Bruce

I have never gotten over the urge to throw mud on the neat white dress of a spotless girl who says "That's filthy!"

If cleanliness of body, clothes and language is the criterion of a civilized person, I am a barbarian (meaning one with a beard).

I have no objection to people dressing as neatly or cleanly as they please, or using only "proper" language. What I object to is their telling me what language I can use or that I can't wear a shirt that has paint on it. I can understand someone being disturbed if I stink enough to trouble them; but even then, they shouldn't tell me. Maybe I have some rare disease and can't help my body odor. Maybe their nose smells things that I can't. The strong smell of gardenia perfume makes me ill, but I would never dream of telling a woman wearing gardenia perfume, "you stink!"

Words that offend people have nothing whatever to do with the meaning of the word. They have to do with what you were taught as a child was "dirty". I can say sheise, scata, or merde as much as I please in my column, but not its English equivalent. I had a German friend who used to use the English equivalent of the above words all the time. Every time something didn't go right it was "s_ _ t !" Once, I said "sheise!" and she blushed. That was the word that she had been taught, as a child, was dirty.

Interestingly, dirty words also attract because they are forbidden. I often wonder if those obsessively neat girls aren't attracted to filthy male animals. I have never checked it out personally, but I understand that some are.

In Utah, you can say s_ _ t as much as you please and no one will bat an eye. One of my first experiences with the Utah way of doing things was when I was waiting in an office. There was this angelic-looking typist who was sitting and typing a letter. Every time that she hit a wrong key, it was s_ _ t !! However, if you say g _ d damn in Utah, people look at you with disapproval, and odds are that someone will tell you that you have uttered a profanity.

Since dirty words offend. People have a compulsion to swear when they hit their finger with a hammer, so they invent euphemisms; words which sound similar to the forbidden word, but aren't the same: shoot, heck, darn, dagnabit, dadgumit etc.

Gosh darn it, euphemisms aren't just used to avoid offending people; they're used to deceive. The word pesticide is used to imply that there are chemicals that just kill undesirable insects. There isn't any such thing; they are insecticides and they kill all kinds of insects; pests and otherwise. The chemical that kills the grasshopper will also kill the honey bee. If there really were a genuine pesticide, you could use it on door to door salesman.

I remember when the War Department was changed to the Department of Defense because war was bad and defense was good. Nothing was changed but the name.

The Atomic Energy Commission was changed to the Department of Energy because atomic was bad and energy was good. Nothing changed in that agency either. For a while people forgot that these were the same people who irradiated the states of Nevada and Utah and destroyed Eniwetok. These were the same madmen who proposed to use atom bombs to blast another canal across Central America; to mention just a few of their activities.

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