An outfit called Switch tells me there's a better way to swear, and I believe it, since creative swearing has always been a weakness here.
The poor armament of half a dozen words has hardly sufficed, especially since they are in such continual use for going to the grocery, describing computer persons and hardware, and similar nitwittery of daily life that on grand occasions, when something fairly gorgeous is called for, there is nothing to call forth.
When I fell out of a chair recently the best I could think of (of course I had little time for preparation) was "Damn chair."
So I sent off for the Switch Manual of better swearing, which is put out by the Rev. David Wold and Tim Nyberg, who hold forth at Box 27063, Minneapolis. Wold is described in the literature as a youth ministries specialist, whatever the hell that may be, and Nyberg is identified as an artist.
Never mind that they live in a box, if they have great ideas for swearing let's hear from them. And now, alas, I must report the truth:
The two of them together know less about swearing than any 8-year-old you are likely to find this side of Mars.
It's hard to believe, but evidently Switch is a serious effort to reduce profanity in the republic, and this may be the place to say that a few more brains in Minneapolis would be a good start.
Instead of the common Saxon word for ordure they suggest, in their manual, "doggy-do." You hit your thumb square with a hammer and say doggy-do.
Well, if it helps, say it.
No religious affiliation is cited, for the Switch folk, but almost certainly they are the same team that produced the new prayer book for the Episcopal Church, since I see stunning similarities between the Manual and the revised prayer book. Though I have not yet had time to find the doggy-do collect.
Don't say "hellow," Switch advises. Say "hi."
Don't say "God damn," says Switch, but try "Sam Spudd." (Don't look at me, I didn't make up the crap).
Don't say "go to hell." Say "go bob for French fries."
Instead of traditional curses, they go on, try this:
"May your breakfast cereal be eternally soggy."
Now the trouble here, apart from an embarrasing display of idiocy and a deplorable failure of grace, is that when men swear mightily (and I cannot speak for women) it is precisely because they have had it up to here with the doggy-do of the world, and are not sufficiently calm to think of eternally soggy breakfast cereal.
Until now I had not realized the Saxon legacy for the treasure it is. When King Alfred burnt the cakes, I hope he did not say "Oh s---," but I also hope he said nothing about "Sam Spudd," as recommended by Switch.
Yesterday the National Town Meeting addressed the perennial problem of our language, not swearing specifically, but the triteness, the leveling down, the blurring of all the gorgeous giraffes and sloths and tigers, so to speak, into mere fauna.
The usual trouble in language is the leap for the abstraction.The noun that can cover everything instead of the word that means only tiger.
Then of course there is giving oneself airs, a vice not limited to the illiterate, but ruinous wherever found. Doggy-doo instead of the common word is an example of this sort of false elegance.
John Simon, film and drama critic on the Town Meeting program, delighted his audience yesterday mainly because he spoke better than anybody else, warning that when common parlance waddles too far from standard English, chaos results.
Not that there is anything sacrosanct about any particular English form. Shakespeare could change an adjective into a verb in less time than it takes the average pedant to curdle milk.
But if nobody likes clarity, nobody wishes to call a giraffe a giraffe, or death, death, and if everybody decides grunts are the ideal communication, then the language does suffer. Which makes a difference. But what does make a difference is that we ourselves suffer, no longer having skunks and zebras and grizzley bears to think about but merely fauna. Which are nothing to see in the mind.
But doom is not here yet. Many centuries of tiresome sermons have not quenched the fire of words, not in English they haven't, and whenever people are in exceptional excitement or in pain or in ectasy, or when they care extravagantly to be understood, then you still hear good English.
There is no reason even our greatest books should not be surpassed by new ones, no reason we should not have plays even richer than "The Tempest" and to reason Milton or the prayer book or any other thing from the past should not be surpassed by later geniuses.
There is nothing (with all respect to loons who believe about any particular word that it should never be used, or that it should invaribly be used.
I acknowledge the poverty of our current swear words, just as any fairminded fellow must concede the prayer book or even the great King James Bible might be improved.
The trouble has never been that improvement is unthinkable. The trouble has always been that doggy-doo (and similar efforts at improving language) don't quite do it.