This thread is about profane language in real life and literature, but it doesn't belong in the adults only section because I don't intend to use any profane words (at least not without asterisks.)
Recently, Andy Rooney wrote a newspaper column about cursing. He said he observed that his smarter friends used noticably less profanity in their speech than his dumber friends.
I don't agree with the conclusion he implied. I consider myself intelligent and I curse a lot. For one thing, I think profane language is a healthy alternative to punching someone or something. It releases pent-up anger without resulting in assault charges or destruction of property. Cursing also provides shock value to radically emphasize a point.
In general I think the modern bias against cursing is a vestige of our ancient past when certain words were believed to possess magical power to do harm. This belief was nonsense then and it's even more nonsensical now that we are supposedly "civilized." Words can't physically harm anyone or cast voodoo spells.
But I admit I have gotten into trouble for cursing. When I visited my mother for the first time at her retirement home in Florida, it was after I had spent 4 years in the military and several more years as a bush rat in the Hawaiian rainforest, during which time we hadn't spoken to each other face to face.
I forgot that my language had grown a bit spicy since the last time we saw each other. Every time I used a curse word, my mother literally freaked out. She was afraid I would embarrass her in front of her pious friends.
Not that my mother was overly pious. On rare occasions when she really lost her temper, she was known to use a curse word or two herself -- but not the most obscene kind, which happened to be my favorite.
Profane language has a long history in literature, from descriptions of sexual matters in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to Shakespeare to some current writers. It has become a more controversial issue in today's atmosphere of religious fundamentalism.
But even during the Roaring Twenties, when religious piety seemed on the wane, D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover was banned in the U.S. and elsewhere for its frank language about sexual matters.
To illustrate my point with a little humor, here's two funny anectdotes I read about:
Norman Mailer wrote the 1947 novel The Naked and The Dead about his experiences in combat during World War II. The dialogue contained a lot of profanity, especially the four-letter word for the sex act which soldiers use commonly. His publisher, worried about possible censorship, changed the word to "fug."
The novel was critically acclaimed, became a best-seller and launched Mailer's career as a leading American writer.
Shortly after the book was published Mailer met the acid-tongued actress Tallulah Bankhead at a New York cocktail party. Miss Bankhead commented: "You're the young author who doesn't know how to spell f***."
Even though the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov contained no profane language, its subject matter caused Nabokov's Italian publisher to fly into a rage when he read the manuscript.
"Are you crazy?" he asked the author. "Do you want us both to go to prison?"
The book was published without any changes and is now considered a literary classic despite the highly-controversial nature of the subject matter, a sexual relationship between a middle-aged man and a 12-year-old girl. Deft writer that he was, Nabokov managed to tell the story without resorting to profane language or lurid descriptions of the sex act.
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa