Do we ever fully grow up? Maybe not. I brought a copy of the Dictionary of American Slang I bought at a used book store for 50 cents to the newsroom and was sharing it with everyone recently.
Faster than a Southerner salts a plate of food, we were looking up dirty words and phrases like a bunch of fifth-graders gathered around our first adult dictionary.
What red-blooded American boy has not read with a flashlight under his covers or looked over his shoulder as he looked up dirty words in the dictionary.
I guess Peter Pan is alive and well in all of us.
I do love words. I try to grow as they grow. I must admit I was insulted by someone or the other occasionally all my life but did not know I was being "dissed" until a few years ago. I also must admit that recently when I saw that "Tina" was destroying a whole generation I couldn't imagine how one woman in spiky high heels singing about rolling on the river could harm anyone. Then a friend of mine explained it is crystal meth and it all came clear. And finally I admit that many times growing up when I didn't have a clean pair of boxers or jockey shorts I "went commando" in my bluejeans without realizing it would have a name.
My new dictionary tells me that a "party hat" used to be the array of lights on the top of a police car and later was a condom. One of my favorite writers, Cajun detective writer James Lee Burke, often has his character visit a few "hot pillows" in search of his perp. (Translated: Visit some sleazy motels of ill-repute in search of the suspect.).
Can you decipher these two sentences? I was playing phone tag with this Metrosexual, a real mensch, mainly because I went to Mickey Ds to mac out. My friend, a real full-mooner, who needs to smoke a blunt and chill out, had been playing head games with me all day.
I have mightily resisted the cute yuppy-ization of words like Mickey Ds for McDonalds and macing out for filling up at that fast food restaurant. Or Hojo for Howard Johnson or FedEx for Federal Express. I also try to avoid AOL speak like brb for be right back and kool for I can't type fast and this is a noncommittal way of saying I am still online.
I plan to get lots of fun out of my American slang dictionary. I have already gotten my 50 cents worth. I wallowed in an earlier book about the origin of words and found out such interesting tidbits like the word bunk came from a North Carolina Congressman by the name of Bunk who was long-winded.
I have an on-going feud with a colleague about the use of certain words. Recently I took a certain racially derogatory word for blacks out of a column by a black columnist. I also took a World War II word for Germans out of another article. My view, rightly or wrongly, is that words can be like a gun accidentally discharged in a crowd. The intention is not to harm anyone but it can have that effect on a young reader. I reason that a loaded word that can be perceived as harmful and hurtful should be avoided if some other way without using the word. In the recent case, I communicated about the mean-spirited word aimed at the black columnist without allowing him to use the word. I communicated about the Nazi soldiers by using Nazis. I look upon it as verbal pollution. To make the point that pollution is harmful you discharge a bunch of it into the air. Hmmm. Didn't you just perpetuate what you said should be wiped from the face of the earth? My ongoing feud, which I am enjoying, stems from what is and is not a generally accepted word and whether it (the name for a certain lifestyle) is perceived by some as mean-spirited or harmful or whether it has worked its way into acceptability.
I am ready to admit that words change meaning and impact. But I maintain that certain groups can use words that formally were used as verbal weapons against them, now almost as a joke or upside down greeting, while others not of that persuasion may still not use the words.
That brings me to the observation recently by CNN that we may be becoming less civil because formally taboo words like the one that starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet are now finding themselves into primetime television. Who would have thought?
I guess I figure that the reason you have curse words is that you use them sparingly and they have impact because another person will know you are really, really mad. If you "sixth letter" every other word then what impact will it have?
Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and Daily Herald and can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.