I saw NPR had a story titled, “Did Cooking Really Give Us The F-Word?” The title made me think I’d learn how a change in diet in prehistoric times led to the use of my favorite vulgar word. Instead, it said it led to all f-words, not just The F-Word.
What a disappointment. I bookmarked the NPR page for use in this column, simply on the promise of the story’s title, but then I read the piece and decided I did not want to talk about how we can pronounce “fricassee,” “frankfurter,” “Fred Flintstone” and “fahrvergnügen” on account of our prehistoric ancestors’ invention of puddings and compotes.
I still feel that way. However, the news this week is not suitable either.
How am I supposed to talk about Mueller’s report if I can’t read it? “What a bunch of hooey!” are not the words I have been saying as that story has unfolded.
Or, when the divorce of the world’s richest person still leaves him the world’s richest person, even though his new ex-wife is now, thanks to the settlement, the world’s third richest woman, and they both talk about being grateful for each other: Is “Really? How wonderful for them!” going to be my reaction? No. The actual phrase I used sounded like a cat spitting up.
Because those stories don’t inspire me, I’m returning to the NPR title. The title, not the article.
I was prepared to believe eating brie and apple sauce caused humans to blurt vulgarities. I mean it’s almost biblical, isn’t it? The snake says, “Try this apple sauce.” Eve eats a spoonful and immediately lets go a blue streak. Adam, fresh from a day of naming all the animals, comes by to hear Eve naming all the body functions, and not in good ways.
But that’s not what the article gets at, so we still want to know, where did The F-Word and its cousins come from?
I had an experience when I was 9 years old that I think may enlighten this issue.
I was an army brat so we moved a lot. When I was 9 I lived for six months in a housing project on the edge of Clinton, Massachusetts.
Clinton was a typical New England town. Beautiful tree-lined streets, ivy -covered town hall, green parks, fine colonial houses,
Except for my neighborhood.
The housing project was reached from the main road leaving Clinton by a gravel drive. The houses were prefabricated, one story, two bedrooms. There were train tracks behind all the houses along our side of the gravel road. The trains were freight trains, and when they passed along our backyards every hour or two they rattled the houses, to the point that the stuff inside kitchen cupboards often fell out and smashed on the floors.
It was the kind of place that says, “If you live here, you’re poor.”
A day or two after moving in I went outside, where I was greeted by about a dozen kids around my age. After finding out I was an army brat and letting me know what they thought of that (they didn’t like it) they told me there was one rule I had to follow whenever I was in their presence and when no adults were around. I had to use the s-word at least once in every sentence. “Or else.” “Or else what?” “Or else we beat the [s-word] out of you.”
I said, “Well [s-word], thanks for that heads-up. I sure as [s-word] wouldn’t want to be beat up by all of you.” They praised me for being a reasonable [s-word].
About a week later another new kid showed up, and the greeters met with him just like they did with me. But he didn’t react the way I did. He said, “I don’t talk like that.”
For the next hour he was beat by one kid after another for about the equivalent of three blocks down the gravel road, and then the next hour they all beat him back the other way to where they started. Seeing all this, I thought, “Whoa, this ‘[s-word]’ [s-word] is real.”
My theory: The neighborhood was poor. Visibly poor, compared with the rest of the town. And the kids in the rest of the town knew that and treated us as outcasts.
I don’t believe that Eve swore immediately after eating the apple. I think she started to swear after being forced out of the nice neighborhood and treated as unworthy of it.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Read the full April 10 - 16 issue.
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