Tom Purcell, 3/8/2010 [Archive]

The Right to Cuss

The Right to Cuss

By Tom Purcell

'What in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks did California lawmakers think they were doing?'

'Ah, yes, you speak of a resolution the California State Assembly passed recently to make the first week of March 'Cuss-Free Week.' It embraced the idea from a teenager who had formed a No Cussing Club in 2007 at his school.'

'But considering what California's overzealous politicians have done to their state -- spending, high taxes, high unemployment -- cursing is one of the few occupations Californians have left!'

'You make a fair point. With a $20 billion deficit in the state's budget -- and many of the state's lawmakers still living in denial about cuts that need to be made -- some argue there are more important matters to deal with. The California Senate decided to shelve the resolution until the budget is dealt with.'

'They should kill the gosh-darn thing! Why should any state government try to control the words people use?'

'Good intentions. Some politicians feel that the resolution -- unlike a law, a resolution has no penalties associated with it -- might encourage more civility among citizens, something that has waned considerably in recent years.'

'Ah, put a sock in it. Cussing isn't the cause of incivility -- it is a symptom. People cuss because they are stressed, broke and worried about the future. When government bodies overstep their bounds, they encourage manners to get even worse!'

'Funny you mention that. Judith Martin, Miss Manners, says that good manners and etiquette are the philosophical basis of civilization. When manners are strong, people restrain their impulse to cuss or be rude and abrasive -- without the need for government laws or resolutions.'

'Miss Manners said that. Kiss my grits!'

'She says the chief role of our government bodies should be to focus on the big issues -- to punish serious conflict involving the loss of life, limb or property -- but now our government has gotten into the business of controlling what people say.'

'And controlling what people cannot say, those dirty, lousy basset hounds!'

'The California resolution is mild compared to what some states have done. According to the First Amendment Center, South Carolina tried, last year, to impose criminal penalties of up to five years for cursing in public places. Many other states have laws that 'prohibit profane, vulgar or blasphemous language.''

'You're shishkabobbing me!'

'What is interesting is that all such laws are unconstitutional. The First Amendment 'protects profanity in the public sphere unless it crosses the line into true threats, fighting words or incitement to imminent lawless action,' says the center.'

'Well, 'stuff' on a shingle!'

'The U.S. Supreme Court clarified the matter in 1971. It reversed the conviction of a man who had worn a jacket into a California courthouse that displayed the words '(BLANK) the Draft.' The court ruled that the state had no right to 'cleanse public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most squeamish among us.''

'California stepped into the horse pucky on that one!'

'The point is this: the upside of difficult economic times is that we are all forced to get back to the basics, including government bodies. Rather than meddle with personal behavior and other extraneous matters, local governments should clear roads when the snow falls; states should have the National Guard ready when disaster occurs; the feds must get the deficit under control before they even think about initiating new programs.'

'Son of a bushel basket, I know how we can slash the deficit! We make our politicians cut spending by $1 every time they do something that causes us to cuss!'

'Now there's an idea.'

© 2010 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Visit Tom on the web at or e-mail him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications.

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