If you happen to be in nearby areas of Virginia and desire to cuss someone out, hopefully it’s for good reason — but be advised that it is better to wait until crossing the state line into North Carolina to unleash such colorful verbal barrages.
That’s because it’s a crime to swear in public in our beloved neighboring state to the north. If choosing to reprimand an offending party in such a manner in Virginia or otherwise express yourself, just make sure the words employed are no worse than “darn,” “heck,” “dang” or “dadblammit.”
In other words, use other words that no way in h*** make the strong point that the person doing the talking probably wants to make, which certainly would be accomplished with saltier language that at least gets the offending party’s attention.
Thank God (I guess that’s OK to say), a state legislator in Virginia recognizes the idiocy of this and is working to rid the books of a law he considers #@!#ing nuts, as a recent Washington Post headline described.
In taking this position against a ridiculous measure, Delegate Michael J. Webert (R-Fauquier), a cattle farmer by trade, used an example most of us who grew up in rural areas around these parts can identify with:
“When you’re working (around) cows and a 1,400-pound animal doesn’t do what you want it to, or steps on your feet, every once in a while something colorful comes out of your mouth,” Webert is quoted as saying.
In such situations, he argues, there’s only a few choice words that will do. And being a wordsmith myself who often struggles to find just the right terminology to describe something (and also a person who has tried to move stubborn beef cattle around), I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Webert.
Yet in Virginia, rolling curse words off your lips with the deftness of a linguistic scalpel — defined in the law as “profane swearing” — is now a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine. Around 1860, when the state’s ban on swearing was instituted, the fine was $1.
First of all, this measure ought to the taken off the books because it predates the Civil War and therefore is not applicable to the more-relaxed sensibilities of today — and second of all because it’s just plain stupid.
As we’ve been reminded quite well over the past year or so through events in the news, the First Amendment right to free speech is something that shouldn’t be violated, which the anti-cursing law in Virginia does. Delegate Wegert simply wants to protect such speech by removing a provision already deemed unconstitutional many years ago under Virginia Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
While cursing might be frowned upon in certain social circles (or “cussing” as people around here are more accustomed to saying), let that be met with a stern stare from the garden club president or whoever, or maybe some choice swear words of her own.
But #$@&%*! — and I can’t say that loud enough — such language shouldn’t be overseen by a law that subjects one to the machinations of the legal system including a criminal conviction of the same stature as public drunkenness.
“When I cursed, my mother told me not to and handed me a bar of soap,” the Virginia lawmaker said in putting the matter into proper perspective. “You shouldn’t get hit with a Class 4 misdemeanor.”
It’s strange that this prohibition is on the books in Virginia of all places, which produced Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Washington supposedly ordered his troops to quit cursing in August 1776. However, I have it on good authority that while at Valley Forge during the horrendous winter of 1777-78, Washington mentioned more than a few times how he was freezing his #@!#ing butt off there.
And Jefferson also justifiably cursed out John Adams when the latter gave him a wedgie during a meeting in Philadelphia, I’ve been told.
The thing to remember here, folks, in terms of measuring any offense caused to society, is that these are “words” we’re talking about. Unlike sticks and stones, it is impossible for words themselves to directly inflict any bodily injury (although I agree that there is no place for racial or sexist slurs that are directed toward a person’s identity and not curse words in general).
Now all that being said, I don’t think such verbage should be hurled about wantonly and recklessly for shock value, such as in some movies — but used only as conditions merit.
F-bombs and the like ought to be pressed into service carefully, sparingly and with precision, as is done with bombs of the military variety.
But there’s definitely a place for both nowadays in this blankety-blank world of ours.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.