Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
‘‘An Example in Conversation”
[p.78] One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop cussing. By “cussing,” I refer to the famous seven words you can’t say on TV (which must be a short bit for George Carlin now since they’ve been whittled down to about two and a half), taking the Lord’s name in vain, any crude word referring to a bodily function, and anything that might make your mother wince upon hearing.
I blame the practice of law for driving me to occasional profanity, and admit that I’m not very good at it anyway, the way some people nearly wax poetic cursing. I didn’t say it was good poetry. But I’m not ready to go cold turkey, either. What I need is a nicotine-patch approach, to limit myself at first to cuss words found in the Bible, then gradually stop using them altogether, [p.79] except in emergencies. Someone told me that cussing WAS sometimes necessary, and IF you were spare with it, when you DID have to use it, people would know that you really MEANT what you were saying. It’s like the emphasis added part of a quote, or using all capital letters, which aren’t visible when you speak. I guess you could raise your voice, but a good synonym for “outer darkness” simply can’t be found.
Of course, a way around the cussing issue is to just make up J. Golden Kimball stories whenever the occasion requires, but this happens so frequently nowadays it’s clearly transparent. Using Brother Golden stories used to be like getting free indulgences from a priest. I recall an opening line in a sacrament meeting talk in 1978 at, of all places, BYU in which the speaker pointed to the back row at some freshmen who were talking, and screeched in his best J. Golden impersonation: “Young men in the back row, GO TO HELL.” Quiet pause. ‘‘And I’ll tell ya something, when ya get there, you’ll find people … who aren’t satisfied.” This succeeded as an attention-getter. The first counselor in our bishopric even woke up. The speaker then went on to explicate what Brother Golden had to say on a topic I’ve forgotten since the only part I remember was about the satisfaction levels of inhabitants of outer darkness.
J. Golden wasn’t the only general authority to have [p.80] ever cussed. Heber J. Grant was known to have, or at least to have consented to it, according to Brother Golden. Heb (that’s what J. Golden called him) and Golden were walking through a parched corn field during a drought when J. Golden reached down, picked up an ear, and said, “It’s a damn shame, ain’t it, Heb.” President Grant turned to Brother Golden and said, “Yes, it is.” And don’t forget Harold B. Lee. He was questioned once about his writing “BS” in the margins of one of Brother Cleon Skousen’s Thousand Years books, to which he replied, ‘‘‘BS’ stands for passages in which Brother Skousen voices his own opinion, not official doctrine.”
The main problem with cussing is that it’s so hard to stop when, for instance, you’re in church. I almost cussed while giving a gospel doctrine lesson in Baltimore, and I wasn’t even mad. I was joking about something and a word nearly slipped out like a piece of chewed food on the edge of your lip. Thank goodness (cuss substitute) I caught myself. At the time the desperate thought crossed my mind that I could claim an episodic outbreak of “Tourette’s Syndrome” and maybe have gotten away with it.
Here are some tips I’ve found especially helpful in the last couple of weeks if you’re considering jumping on the wagon with me: (1) don’t substitute “flip,” [p.81] “fetch,” “heck,” “dam,” “shoot,” “dadblastit,” or “dadgumit” in front of your non-Mormon friends, since they’ll likely blame this nonsense on Mormonism; (2) channel your efforts into idealistic philosophies, like (a) referring to illegitimate children reflects on someone’s mother and is un-American, (b) references to female canines might irritate some animal rights activists, and (c) those who consider themselves aspiring writers should pride themselves on avoiding the common (hence the term “vulgar”) worn—out expressions for bodily functions when there are so many other interesting, obscure synonyms available (see Ed Snow’s Cussing Thesaurus, forthcoming); (3) use of the biblical curse words I’ve suggested might open your conversation toward actual, legitimate, theological discourse; and (4), when in doubt, you can always take your own name in vain and often find others in agreement.