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It's a Curse

Swearing, that is. And 'Cuss Control' author James V. O'Connor says we're getting more careless about our language--using swear words or near-swear words too much.

May 11, 2000|MIMI AVINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Certain words, we tell our children, are bad. They're rude, nasty . . . heck, they're just freakin' inappropriate.

Oops. While there is general agreement on just which naughty words shouldn't be uttered in public, the standard keeps shifting. And as a new crop of almost-curses (the euphemisms that substitute for the really offensive words) work their way into conversation, just what is freakin' OK and what isn't is open to interpretation.

Oops again. My personal favorite substitute word is freakin', or, if I'm feeling proper, freaking. It doesn't mean anything, doesn't sound insulting or impolite. It lets me get away with the verbal equivalent of murder, since it manages to be a replacement for the worst curse word, but in an inoffensive way. I think.

"You aren't fooling anyone with words like that," said James V. O'Connor, author of "Cuss Control, the Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing" (Three Rivers Press, 2000). "It is better than the word you're substituting it for, but there are other, milder substitutes. It's better to say something like 'stinking.' That's a negative word, it actually does mean something, but it's acceptable."

The larger problem, according to O'Connor, a Chicago public relations executive who bills himself as founder of the Cuss Control Academy, is using curse words for emphasis at all.

"It's getting worse," he said. "I hear more people swearing in places where they didn't used to. I don't remember 10 or 15 years ago hearing nicely dressed women in a restaurant using foul language within earshot of other people. I just heard that a few nights ago."

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Let's play "blame the media and pop culture" for this friggin' trend. Cable television relaxed the naughty-word code that network television had long followed. Network shows then felt pressured to include the cuss words anyone could hear a few channels up the dial, so it isn't at all unusual to hear a sitcom family child say, "That sucks," language that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Popular songs used to tell us about blue moons. Now rap music and curses are forever united.

Radio use of profanity can result in Federal Communications Commission fines, but that doesn't stop talk show host Tom Leykis from referring to "uck buddies" on his afternoon drive time show. He isn't alone in using barely disguised cuss words. Howard Stern has expanded the repertoire of euphemisms for sexual acts on his nationally syndicated program.

Magazines and newspapers are including more curses too. The New Yorker is among the many magazines that prints the "F word." This newspaper printed the word "friggin' " three times in the last year, all within direct quotes. "Freakin' " showed up more often--eight times in the last year, all in quotes as well, such as one local congressman calling another "a freaking idiot."

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Like most of us, O'Connor grew up swearing but tired of it when he felt its public use was becoming excessive. "What most people don't realize is that if they use a lot of profanity, they're damaging their relationships, influencing the way other people perceive them," he said. "When people hear someone curse, especially in an environment in which it's not appropriate, they assume that person is immature or uncontrolled. My message is to be careful about when and where you swear. The book is called 'Cuss Control,' not 'Cuss Elimination.' "

Maybe it's time to resurrect a cursing game I invented once, on a long drive through a North African desert. The winner of the game was the person who could come up with the most creative curse, along the lines of "May a herd of elephants with intestinal problems trample the grave of your grandmother." As it turns out, curse invention is so dang complicated it makes people forget what they were cussing about in the first place.

James V. O'Connor will be at the Westwood Borders on May 23, the Santa Monica Borders on May 24 and the Sherman Oaks Borders on May 25. All appearances are at 7:30 p.m. His Web site is http://www.cusscontrol.com.

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