I swear: what are they thinking down there in Middleborough?
The town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, is in the news.
As is often the case when some obscure burg achieves national recognition, it’s seldom for something glowingly positive: perfect SAT scores prove unequivocally that Lake Woebegone’s children are all above average; suburb achieves 100% no-negative-environmental-impact score by line drying their laundry; town places all shelter animals in loving homes.
No, mostly it’s for something peculiar, maybe even a bit foolish. (C.f., towns that enact laws that state that every household must have a gun.)
To the peculiar, maybe even a bit foolish category, I nominate Middleborough’s recent vote to fine folks $20 when the use profanity in public.
Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks. (Source: Huffington Post. I told you this made the national news!)
No word on what’s banned in Middleborough, but a good place to start might be George Carlin’s seven dirty words. (Don’t click through if you’re nervous about seeing the f-word, the s-word, the c-word in print. I do not want to piss, I mean urinate, off any delicate readers.)
Outlawing dirty words is not exactly new in Middleborough. In 1968, they made cursing a crime. The law was never enforced because it was just too much trouble. The thinking this time is that a civil penalty – a fine – will do the trick.
Ah, 1968, that would be when a crowd of foul-mouthed teenagers of an earlier era must have started hanging around beautiful downtown Middleborough swearing their asses off. Apparently, those teenagers are now all grown up and have aged into the kind of censorious prudes who would vote to fine those who practice the fine art of not deleting their expletives.
The town meeting vote was not a nail biter: 183-50.
One of the approving disapprovers is Mimi Duphily, who is “really happy about it…I don't care what you do in private. It's in public what bothers me."
Now, I would not normally name names in this sort of post, but I happened to hit spelling check, and the suggested alternatives for “Duphily” included Dopily and Dumpily. (Sorry, Ms. Duphily, I couldn’t resist.)
Now I don’t know how big a problem that foul language is in Middleborough. I doubt that there are hordes of profanity-hurling teens rampaging through the streets, but you never know. If the alternative is hanging out in cranberry bogs – the big game in town – this may, in fact, be what’s happening. And I can’t blame the Middleborough moms who don’t want to have their four year olds exposed to the rants of foul-mouthed layabouts every time they have to run into CVS for toothpaste.
Still, I expect that fining folks for using profanity will turn out to be a non-starter.
As an avid profanity user from way-back, there are few words, other than the grossest of ethnic/racial slurs and the c-word, that offend me. Personally, I was more offended last summer when, walking down the main drag in Astoria, Oregon with my sister and nieces, we spotted a yahoo with a swastika on the back of his jacket. That both offended and scared me. (Although as someone who has been expecting fascism to arrive in American since 1968, give or take a year, I was not surprised.)
Most everyone I hang with curses/swears/whatever you want to call it, too. This disproves my mother’s repeated pronouncement that only those with limited vocabularies resort to profanity. (Not so, Ma: labile, inchoate, transmogrified, irenic*, riparian – to name just a few of My Big Words.)
Now, I don’t know anyone who fuckin’ uses the fuckin’ f-word as a fuckin’ adjective to fuckin’ modify every fuckin’ word out of their fuckin’ mouth.
But I do use the word, among other not-so-nicey-nice words with some regularity. (See my earlier post Sugar-Honey-Ice-Tea.)
I just can’t imagine that such regularity would include hanging around the streets of Middleborough yelling “bad words” at the top of my lungs.
I do pass by Middleborough when I’m heading to the Cape, however. Maybe next time I’ll swing by and let a few choice words fly.
I missed the protest that was held there the other day. And in any case,
Enforcement of the ordinance is on hold until Attorney General Martha Coakley determines whether the measure is constitutional. (Source: Boston.com)
But thinking about a Middleborough drive-by reminds me that, when my nieces - now teenagers – were younger, they were driving us, for a while, to distraction by occasional forays into button-pushing, moronic, and way, way, way too repetitive use of strong language when in my (non-parental) presence.
I would explain to them that, while I personally didn’t give a rat’s ass what they said, they were not using their choice words with any particular élan. That they were, in fact, boring. And that there were certainly people out there who really, really, really don’t like to hear pretty little girls with trash mouths. Just because. (For some reason, their swearing especially drove me nuts when I was driving.)
What I would let them do, when I had the girls in the car, heading to my sister and brother-in-law’s in Wellfleet, they could say whatever they wanted while we were crossing the Sagamore Bridge on the way to The Cape.
Knock yourself out, I would tell them. No holds barred. Open the windows. Stick your heads out. Holler to the heavens.
But, once we got to the other side of the bridge, that was it. No more swearing.
Surprisingly, it worked.
The girls got it out of their system, and, although we no longer need to rely on it, we all fondly remember our times on The Swearing Bridge.
Perhaps Middleborough should reserve a certain place or time in town where the kids can have at it. Moms with toddlers in toe, gray haired grannies heading into Dunkie’s for a cuppa after Mass, folks who just don’t want to listen to a bunch of moronic teenagers with nothing better to do,would know where and when to avoid “it”.
Of course, this would remove the fun of being provocative and antagonistic.
Still, it might work better than a $20 fine.
*Yes, V, this ones for you!