July 11 2012 11:10 AM

Criminalizing naughty language is naughty

Edwin Decker

My last column got me in a bit of trouble because of a controversial word that begins with the letter “N” and ends with the letter “R you out of your everloving mind, white boy?”

The backlash got me thinking about a law that recently passed in Middleborough, Mass., that enables law enforcement to fine (yes, fine) people for swearing in public. I wondered what would’ve happened if that column were published there. Would they have fined us? I doubt it. It’s hard to imagine an American opinion columnist being penalized for the written word, but then again, they’re penalizing people for speaking certain words, so what’s the difference?

Sure, technically there are legitimate restrictions on speech: You can’t say things that could cause physical harm to anyone (such as inciting a riot); you can’t threaten bodily harm to people to get them to do your bidding (also known as “duress”); and you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Bottom line: Just don’t say stuff that can hurt other people; and by “hurt” I mean actual hurt, as in “cause bodily harm,” which is an appropriate and useful law.

However, this no-swearing business in Middleboring is about stopping people from making other people feel uncomfortable, to which I say, “Kitty whiskers!” Everything makes somebody uncomfortable. You know what makes me uneasy? When people start talking about punishing other people for things they say.

In response to my previous column about the word that ends with the letter “R” and begins with the letter “N you better not say it again, sucka!” I received an email from reader Phillip Hightower, who wrote, “If it wasn’t for freedom of speech, the N-word should be outlawed, punishable with a fine, imprisonment or both.”

Yes, yes—so true, Phillip. That pesky First Amendment is always getting in the way of our freedom to censor. I’m so glad you weren’t at the protest. On June 24, U.S. Marine vet Adam Kokesh staged a demonstration outside the Meddleborough town hall. Protesters displayed signs with naughty words, yelled the F-bomb and flashed the bird. Man, I would have loved to have been on that sign-writing committee. Because my messages would have been profanity-laced nuclear bombs exploding in the faces of all the language barons and word sissies. My signs would say things like, “This Law is Fiddle Sticks!” and “Eat my Butter Beans, Meddleborough!” If I were giving a speech, it would begin with “What in the blue blazes is going on here!?” I know, I know—it’s pretty radical language. But I’m edgy like that.

“I’m just here to pray for our town,” said Pastor Loren Decker of the LifeHouse Church, according to SouthCoastToday.com. “Jesus said that what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of what’s in our heart,” to which I respond, “Horse pucky, padre!” Clearly, God wants us to swear. It’s part of the natural order of things.

“Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon,” writes researcher Richard Stephens of Keele University of Psychology (who discovered that cursing reduces pain). “Our research suggests that swearing is a useful part of language that can help us express strong emotions or react to high pressure situations.”

You hear that, Pastor Poopybuttface? Clearly, God wants us to be profane. Otherwise, why did he make it so easy for our lips to pronounce the word “bimbohole”?

Incidentally, the word “profanity” derives from the Latin, pro fanum, with pro meaning “before” or “outside” and fanum meaning “sanctuary” or “church.” To be profane literally meant to be outside or off church grounds, as in, “Father Molestiphus took the altar boys on a pro fanum camping trip.” The meaning has changed over time, but it still has that irritating, holier-than-thou, no-fun-allowed, religious connotation that probably inspired residents of Middlerighteous to pass the ban 183 to 50. This blows my snap-diggity mind! You’d have thought that, in Massachusetts— the epicenter of rebellion—the vote would’ve been a little closer. But 183 to 50? That’s almost 75 percent. You couldn’t get that many people to vote for a law that bans stabbing puppies in the face! But First Amendment-canceling—it’s a landslide!

Resident Mimi Duphily, who runs an auto-parts store in town, voted yes for the law because young people “sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language,” reports NYDailyNews.com.

Well, holy macaroni, Mimi! They’re saying bad words in Middleblowme? Whatever will the residents do?

I will never fargin’ understand why anyone would permit a certain combination of letters to upset them so completely and what kind of fargin’ icehole you must be to want to ban them. As my friend Grant Preston said—in the blustery aftermath of the column in which I used the word that begins with “NI,” ends with “ER” and ain’t nothing but a G-thing in the middle: “Words are merely wrappers to transport our thoughts.”

In the case of profanity, the thoughts being transported can be anything between, “Oh, noodles, I stubbed my toe!” to “I hate that blowbag Mimi who runs the auto-parts store,” both of which are appropriate forms of expression, exactly as God intended.

“I’m sorry if I offend you. But I don’t swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure that language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we’ve got.” —From the play Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee

Write to ed@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.