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    Once I had a love / And it was a gas

    Is there some kind of rule that, now that the word ass is permitted on network television, you have to have characters say it all the time? Like, there’s a backlog from all that “ass” that went unsaid until the 90s, and it has to be cleared out? I mean, look–I’m a man who just loves ass, even in expletive form. It’s just that it seems so forced.

    In a more wide-ranging discussion, Dean has himself and a few others worked into a froth over naughty words. It’s interesting to read, but his own take on the issue (that people who chafe at hearing them are just being self-righteous) shows a surprising lack of imagination.

    Sophisticated cultures need arbitrary boundaries. In a society in which people move about freely and make agreements by contract rather than blood ties, we need as many ways to establish trust as possible; and it’s important that some of them be content-free, or at least symbolic. You can’t operate if you have to wait until after you’ve entrusted your life or property to someone to find out whether he’s reliable. The risk is too great.

    That’s one of the reasons we have all kinds of little rules about how to serve and eat food, how to format certain kinds of letters, and how to express yourself in public. The behaviors themselves don’t matter. What matters is that you’re showing respect for the prevailing customs of your own culture, which indicates that you can be expected to respect weightier rules when they’re operative.

    Now, of course, it isn’t necessarily true that he who is faithful in little will also be faithful in much. There are plenty of swindlers and sluts with impeccable manners socially. Etiquette has to be supplemented by reputation and credentials if we actually want to draw conclusions, as certainly as we can, about what kinds of people we’re dealing with. But I maintain that it’s a valuable starting point. A willingness to avoid vulgar expression in public is a signal that you understand the difference between public and private spheres and that you are capable of at least a modicum of self-discipline. Neither quality is to be taken for granted these days.

    BTW, my upbringing was as working-class as Dean’s was, and there was no cursing allowed in my parents’ house. There was no self-righteousness about it–my mother never tsk-tsked over the neighbors’ language or anything–and most of it was for religious reasons. I suspect they still matter to more people than Dean thinks. And conversely, if he thinks class-conscious types are the ones who avoid cursing, he hasn’t spent any time with social-climby lawyers or bankers in their off hours.

    One final point: you won’t see me use extreme swear words here, but (as Dean himself…and Connie, and Michael, and a few others who’ve become friends through the blog here…can attest) I deploy them freely and unblushingly in private correspondence. One of the pleasures of having friends is being able to let your guard down around and say what you think in raw form, and it gets lost if you talk the same way all the time. That may not be the most important consideration related to the issue, but I don’t think it’s a negligible one.

    12 Responses to “Once I had a love / And it was a gas”

    1. Connie says:

      Bloody well said.

    2. Dean's World says:

      More On Cuss Words

      I was rather amused by some who chose to weigh in on the subject of so-called “foul” language.

      I find that people who oppose salty, colorful language generally have no idea how boorish their viewpoint seems to a lot of o…

    3. Dean's World says:

      More On Cuss Words

      I was rather amused by some who chose to weigh in on the subject of so-called “foul” language.

      I find that people who oppose salty, colorful language generally have no idea how boorish their viewpoint seems to a lot of o…

    4. Flea says:

      I quite agree with the thrust of your argument and it is for much the same reasons I avoid foul language in my blogging if not in private correspondence. That said, we are going to have some difficulty is always understanding this or that expression as being problematical in this or that on-line context given the enormous range of proprieties even when limiting the issue to English-speaking readers. For example, “ass” does not trouble me while “sluts” is a term I would avoid.

    5. John says:

      Good post. And I got the title allusion, for once.

    6. Michael says:

      Dean only censors the word F**k when he’s not telling me to go f**k myself.

      I’m coming to Japan to visit, by the way.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:


      That’s a good point, but I do think that you can filter out idiosyncratic preferences and still get a list of a half-dozen words that just shouldn’t be used in conversation with, say, someone who’s interviewing you for a job. BTW (you knew I was going to ask this, right?), what’s your problem with sluts?


      Thank you! Both for the compliment and for getting the joke. You have no idea what a cheap thrill it was for me and my pals in my ultra-conservative church congregation to listen to the last verse of “Heart of Glass” and be like, “She just said ‘ass’!” The 70s were such an innocent time.


      I’ve seen him use the asterisk bleep-out himself, but does he ever censor other people’s use of it?

      Cool! If you’re coming through Tokyo, or its environs, let me know.

    8. Michael says:

      I haven’t set a date, but, as you know, my schedule is a little clearer now.

    9. Maria says:

      Well said, bitch.

    10. Sean Kinsell says:

      Keep me posted, Michael.

      Maria, why didn’t I guess you’d say something like that? :)

    11. Alice says:

      People may have good personal reasons for not swearing too. If parts of the language are irrelevant to what you are trying to express, then you don’t use them. Swearing is mostly used for emphasis and to express anger, but there are other ways of doing those, also the more you use a word, the less effective it is going to be in terms of strength anyway, if strength is what you want to use it for.

      There’s definitely nothing *wrong* with not swearing, so criticising it at all seems a bit irrelevant to me, like criticising not wearing low-cut tops or not watching television. People have different tastes, basically, which is a jolly good thing.

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