Cloudy with a chance of swearing

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer May 10, 2013 10:44 am
As a kid, I was curious about swearing. I never heard much of it, so I’d go around the neighborhood visiting old sheepherders, men working on cars and kids who were bad seeds hoping to enhance my vocabulary.

I couldn’t bring my swearing home. There, it was forbidden. I was as likely to hear swearing at home as I was to see my parents dress in tie-dyed clothes and dance around a solstice bonfire.

Sure, Dad had a volcanic temper. And he could break a chair into 99 pieces, in the garage. But the best swearing he could muster was borrowed from Okie neighbors and therefore disappointing. 

“Dadburn it!” he would exclaim whenever he hit his thumb with a hammer.

I don’t remember Mom swearing, and with three children to raise, she had plenty of opportunities. 

If I swore, at home or away, I was sure I would burn in hell as Satan’s special guest for a marshmallow roast.

When the minister at church did a sermon on assumptions, however, I was all ears. Most times, I just doodled on my bulletin, and wished the festivities were over so I could go read the funny pages of the Sunday newspaper. Usually, the sermon was about as lively as watching paint dry. My eyes glazed over.

Aha! moment

This time, however, the minister suddenly used what in my household was considered a swear word. I was astounded. He threw out the word “ass.” 

“Making assumptions,” he said, “is making an ass out of you and me.”

Finally, I had struck gold. Not until later, however, did I realize I had a nugget to carry the rest of my life. All these hours of sitting through sermons, learning about the children of Israel’s adventures in the desert, minus campstoves, sleeping bags or GPSes, as they waited for miracles of manna, I was finally rewarded with a tool for living. It was like getting a worn-out screwdriver every Sunday for a year and finally getting an electric drill.

After the shock wore off, I thought about what the Napoleon of ministers had to say.  

His message? Get all the evidence you can before moving ahead. Don’t assume anything.

I was never much for sitting through lectures, whether at college or at church. I would rather learn by doing. Lectures often offered a big pile of junk to wade through before getting to the treasure.

The minister, though, did me a big favor with his lecture. I’m no longer enthusiastic about swearing, knowing that certain adjectives are overused, especially the common vulgar ones, and there are better, more eloquent ways to express ideas.

I also know better than to assume anything. It’s a treasure I take with me wherever I go.