I don’t swear.
Not accidentally; not on purpose.
Now, lest you develop an exalted impression of me, I’m no goody two-shoes — whatever the Sam Hill (my mom’s form of “cursing” when I was a kid) that means. I wasn’t always thus.
I’m no virgin when it comes to cussing. I’ve been around the block.
But I made a decision more than 40 years ago about how to conduct my life. I vowed to stop swearing. Swearing doesn’t automatically send you to hell; but it ensures that you’ll speak its language.
I’ve held myself to a strict standard. No gutter talk. It matters not what others around me say, I’ll not cave in.
Sure, when I served in the United States Army I swore like, well, a sailor (I’ve been told the Navy exceeds the Army in colorful invective). The language around me was consistently rough. My mates and I regularly swore and were OK with it.
Virtually every sentence out of my mouth while in uniform contained an epithet. I routinely used vulgar words as modifiers. What they modified was my brain and the wholesome manners I’d been raised with.
Four-letter words seemed natural to me, so I went with them … without blanching.
The only people I didn’t swear in front of were my parents, nuns, young ladies that I’d not yet met, and grandmas. Everyone else — including an Army chaplain —was fair game.
I was some kinda role model, eh?
When I graduated from college I took a job in higher education. I pursued a career there. Crass language didn’t fit that environment. I determined that I would tone down my salty rhetoric.
I then met Hedy and she further civilized me. We married and started having babies. I was now in my early 30s and didn’t want my children exposed to my bad language.
I also became a Christian and that dramatically altered my perspective.
I changed. I truly believed that swearing was coarse and inappropriate. I didn’t want to do it anymore, so I cleaned up my act. I did a 180.
Do I notice people cussing today more than ever before? Oh, heck yes.
Take a walk around a mall or a college campus and listen to the conversations. F-bombs and S-words fly like hand grenades.
The most egregious offenders, I believe, are teenage and early-20s females. They use language publicly that would have short-circuited my Army buddies’ eardrums. Do you ladies eat with those potty mouths?
Do you care how others perceive you? Do you talk to Granny and Gramps like that? Good gracious.
I’m particularly sensitive to female behavior. I have three daughters and six granddaughters.
Now, in my early 70s, I’ve started breaking out in the vilest language myself. What? Not purposefully, mind you.
I don’t hear myself doing it, but Hedy does. And she tells me about it. It’s appalling, but I have no control. None. I let fly with harangues that would curl my sainted mother’s hair.
This proves that the “inner me” isn’t so squeaky clean. Like most humans, I’m flawed.
I sally forth with swear words once or twice a month. Here’s what I think is happening.
I have Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disorder — a disease of the brain — with no known cure. It causes nerve cells to die or become impaired, and patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, loss of facial mobility, and balance difficulties. Because it affects the brain, it can modify behavior.
Now I occasionally have dreams where I’m fending off an attacker or charging a fortification. I shout threats and obscenities in my dream. Unfortunately, it’s not limited to the dream. I can be heard throughout the house.
Hedy has to shake me awake. “Huh, what?” I sputter.
It makes for interesting discussions at the breakfast table when our grandkids sleep over. Their parents — my kids — are beginning to consider me a bad influence.
Sadly, swearing is like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it.
JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.