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Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: Southeast Kansas Sailors

  • This column originally appeared April 18, 2005.



    From time to time in this column, I refer to this or that person using “flowery language,” which is, of course, another way of saying they engage in a little cussing - also known as cursing, swearing and blaspheming, depending on what region you come from or what religious affiliation you adhere to.

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  • This column originally appeared April 18, 2005.
    From time to time in this column, I refer to this or that person using “flowery language,” which is, of course, another way of saying they engage in a little cussing - also known as cursing, swearing and blaspheming, depending on what region you come from or what religious affiliation you adhere to.
    I remember, when I was about 12, I overheard one grownup tell another that a rather respectable-looking older lady had the capacity to “cuss like a sailor.” This struck me as odd since Frontenac, Kan., is quite a ways from the nearest seaport, and I was fairly certain the woman was not in the Navy. The mystery deepened further when the other adult agreed and asserted that she behaved just “like a sailor on shore leave.”
    After a little questioning of my two older brothers, I found out what sailors did on shore leave, which caused me to be all the more intrigued with the woman and, for a time, had me intent on joining the Navy right out of high school.
    According to my friend John Hagler, when it comes to cussing in the military, NOTHING could compare with a Marine Corps drill instructor during boot camp in the 1960s. “You could have taken the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine and combined them and it still wouldn’t get anywhere NEAR the creativity and vulgarity of a Marine drill instructor,” he told me. John was kind enough to send along a few examples of what he called “a Marine Corps art form,” saying he doubted I could print any of it. He’s right. I can’t.
    One of the artful things drill instructors did was string a bunch of words together in a sentence with a certain foul cuss word in the middle of every single word or phrase. “The bittersweet, sad/funny thing about it was,” John said, “that it was sometimes hilarious and we weren’t allowed to even smile, let alone laugh.” (If you want a genuine sampling of Marine drill instructor cussing, John suggests you watch the first half of the film “Full Metal Jacket.”)
    There are those who believe that people cuss out of laziness or as a result of their stunted verbal capability, which, in many cases, is true. Even so, I am of the opinion that honest expression sometimes requires it.
    Certainly foul language can be overdone, though. I’m certain the producers of the western HBO TV series “Deadwood” hire the best writers around (eliminating the possibility of stunted verbal capability), nevertheless, the characters use so much vulgarity that it makes me wonder if laziness might be a factor. It gets in the way of an otherwise interesting show, and I find myself changing the channel. (I’m willing to bet even some sailors on shore leave turn it off.)
    Page 2 of 2 - I can’t even imagine my childhood western heroes talking that way. When I was a boy, old western movies and TV series offered up creative language. Dialogue that, while not all-out cussing, offered a palatable illusion to it. When a frustrated Gabby Hayes said, “Dad-gummit Roy!” you knew Roy Rogers was aware he was pretty “gol-dang” mad. The same with Festus when talked about how hard headed his “dad-burned” mule Ruth was. It was all in the emotional inflection. Other favored cowboy expletives were “dog-gone!” “gosh-darn!” “dad-burned!” “heck!” “blasted!” “dag-nabbit!” “consarn-it!” “dang-it!” and “shoot!”
    All-out foul language, name calling, vulgarity and the use of anatomical slang (cussing like a sailor) are certainly uncalled for, but the use of an off-color word or, at the very least, indelicate language from time to time is about the only way to get the truth of the situation across. It’s the kind of gritty depiction of reality that causes Hollywood to be unpopular among some viewers, but, let’s face it, “Golly gee!” or “Shucks!” when confronted with gut-wrenching trauma, extreme anger, or a despicable person just doesn’t get it.
    Growing up in southeast Kansas, I experienced, from time to time, some well-chosen cuss words - sometimes in different dialects. Besides expanding my overall vocabulary, it prepared me for the language of construction work, which I did to pay my way through college.
    My first construction job was in 1969. I was sent out to the new Holiday Inn job site by the local union to work for noted plasterer, Albert Lance, as mud mixer and hod carrier. When he found out the union had sent him a green laborer, he launched into quite a fit — throwing tools, cussing a very creative, staccato blue streak, and calling the union leaders and me all manner of vulgar names.
    Being from the Republic of Frontenac, it didn’t bother me a bit. I just picked up a shovel and went to work. Anyway, once things settled down, I figured he just might have a great story or two to tell about shore leave in some distant seaport.
     
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net
     
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