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Tom Chaney: Cussing with Imagination

Of Writers and their Books, Cussing with Imagination is a plea for expanding one's vocabulary and suggests help from Shakespeare. This column first appeared 25 December 2005
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Books at Christmas

By Tom Chaney

Cussing with Imagination

Just as World War Two was ending, our father, Boots Chaney started on a major renovation of the house we lived in at the corner of Main and Yancey in Horse Cave. We lived in the house all during the work, at one point moving into just one room.

Mr. Rucian Rowe was the contractor. He had an assistant who, besides being handy with a hammer, was a pretty good cusser for Horse Cave. Our mother, Corinth, objected to his cussing where Ann and I were able to hear. Boots spoke to the carpenter about his swearing; he promised to mend his ways. Pretty soon Boots struck his thumb with his hammer. "Dagnabbit!" he exclaimed.

"What did you say, Boots?" the carpenter asked.

"Dagnabbit!" he replied. "I'll try it," quoth the carpenter.

'Twern't long afore the carpenter had need of strong language. Trying to imitate Boots, he exclaimed, "Dag-god-nabbit!" Boots allowed as how he just better return to regular cussing.

A couple of weeks ago the intrepid publisher of this newspaper wrote a column decrying what he sees as the increasing use of profanity in everyday language. I would like to take issue with him on that matter and suggest an alternative. The problem is not cussing so much as it is the lack of imagination in the process. If we would look to our linguistic history, we could see that the vocabulary of cussing has been greatly diminished to the point that the few four-letter words we know have lost their force through overuse.

The esteemed Dr. Arthur Moore late of the University of Kentucky Department of English once told of a sailor striking his hand with a marlin spike. He stopped what he was doing and cursed for twenty minutes in three languages without repeating himself. It was, according to Dr. Moore, a linguistic feast for the ear.

So here is what we do. A friend of mine recently sent me a list of Shakespearian Curses. Take three words, one from each group below, and hurl them to the wind with vivacity, verve, and volume. Use as needed; avoid at all costs the usual ****, ****, and ****. Take not the divine name in vain. Work on your vocabulary; amaze friend and foe alike.

Group A: bawdy -/- artless -/- beslubbering -/- mewling -/- saucy -/- craven -/- fawning -/- puking droning -/- ruttish -/- tottering -/- unmuzzled -/- bootless -/- impertinent -/- paunchy

Group B: bat-fowling -/- fen-sucked -/- rump-fed -/- idle-headed -/- toad-spotted -/- flap-mouthed -/- earth-vexing -/- plume-plucked -/- ill-breeding -/- motley-minded -/- clapper-clawed -/- elf-skinned sheep-biting -/- beef-witted -/- fat-kidneyed

Group C: canker-blossom -/- flax-wench -/- lout -/- maggot-pie -/- lewdster -/- malt-worm -/- harpy -/- varlot -/- buttock -/- codpiece -/- strumpet -/- nut-hook -/- foot-licker -/- bladder -/- horn-beast

Many fine cussers litter literary history.

I think of Mark Twain who remarked, "In certain dire and trying circumstances, profanity offers a relief denied even to prayer."

On another occasion Mark Twain's wife Olivia, tired of his cussing, let fly with a burst of profanity designed to blister the paint on the side of the house. The humorist heard her out; paused to consider the outburst; then said, "Olivia, you know the words, but you don't have the tune."

In the play Inherit the Wind the attorney objects to the use of profanity by his opposing counsel. The other lawyer replies, "Language is a poor enough way of expressing ourselves. Let us use all of it that we have."

Cussing is a basic necessity of life. The ability to let fly with a good cussing has drastically cut the mayhem and murder rate.

Let us then develop the art.

Avoid the usual. Don't take the name of god in vain. And, more importantly, don't repeat yourself.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-12-23 00:17:27
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