Profanity. The word comes from the Latin profanus, which means “not sacred.” Originally used to describe disrespect for religion, it’s now synonymous with “swear words” or obscene or offensive language.
I like the word “profanity;” it’s more elegant than “cussing” and less high-falutin’ than “imprecation.” I also like many words that are considered profanity by most. But I don’t like making people uncomfortable with my use of words, profane or otherwise.
That’s why I feel a responsibility to expound on last week’s column, in which I invited readers to take in “It’s Only a Play,” the show currently running at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. I did mention that the play contains some very strong language, but I guess my warning wasn’t worded strongly enough. Several people left the theater because the dialogue was too salty for their tastes.
At the reception following opening night, one audience member told me, “I guess you won’t be bringing your mother to this show!” I reminded him that Mom, in her movie debut (“Get a Job”) at the age of 85, hurled the F-bomb with glee, not once, but twice.
Now, anyone who knows my mom will agree that she is far from obscene or offensive. But yes, she had no problem with her scripted line because she’s never been uncomfortable using the word in real life. Mom raised me with the understanding that words are tools; that there’s no such thing as a “bad” word. Inappropriate sometimes, yes, but not bad.
I remember coming home from grade school one day and describing an argument between a couple of friends. “Ho, she was all pieced off.”
Mom cut me off immediately, “Do you know what that means?”
“Sure, it means angry. She gave her a piece of her mind.”
After a good laugh, Mom explained the actual origin of the phrase and why I shouldn’t use it in conversation. “It’s impolite. Having good manners means making people around you feel comfortable, and some people are very uncomfortable with certain words.”
There is one particular F-word that Mom banished from my vocabulary despite her liberal views, after a memorable incident at my father’s dental office.
I was 4 or 5 years old, playing by myself in the front lobby while my dad was occupied in his workroom at the back of the building. For some reason I don’t recall, his receptionist wasn’t in that day, and Daddy told me to let him know when the next patient arrived.
I was deeply involved in playacting with my paper dolls, so when the patient walked in, rather than running to the back room, I lifted my head and shouted, “Daddy, the fat lady’s here!”
Regrettably, my father called back, “What did you say?”
“I said, THE FAT LADY’S HERE!”
The patient yelled, “It’s me, Doc!” as Daddy came running down the hallway, mortified and deeply apologetic.
I learned two lessons that day. First, never shout unless it’s an emergency. Second, “fat” is acceptable as a noun but not an adjective. To this day, I always use the word “big” instead, and I get extremely uncomfortable when I hear someone refer to a person (even themselves) as fat.
Besides the other F-word, “It’s Only a Play” also contains some drug use and adult situations. The show is wildly hilarious and hilariously wild. Please note that ProArts will not issue refunds based on your discomfort with the language; however, if you have already purchased tickets but do not wish to be bombarded with those words, you may exchange your tickets for seats at the next ProArts production, “Black Comedy/’Dentity Crisis.”
I do hope you’ll choose to brave the onslaught of cussing and irreverence. Actually, we don’t swear all that much, and it’s always in appropriate context. And never, not once, do we call anyone fat.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.