Quiet Desperation

It goes without saying, but they say it anyway


“Well, I swear,” is an obsolete expression that was a way of swearing without swearing.

Believe it or not, four-letter words were once impermissible in films.

Now it would be almost impossible to find a film other than one of Disney’s or Hallmark’s that wasn’t filled with them.

It belongs at a 10-year-old slumber party, but one of Ellen’s (many) idiotic bits involves the determination of a celebrity’s favorite curse word.

Guess which one is most popular?

Hint: It’s said 506 times in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

I swear at home, but not when I leave the house.

My swearing is never directed at someone. It’s directed at something, such as a remote control that is playing hide and seek.

Now and then when I can’t open crackers I’ll say something profane.

I don’t know how Charles Dickens managed without four-letter words. His novels would have been so much better.

If you tried to play a game of shots watching “Good Will Hunting,” waiting for one four-letter word in particular, you’d be legally drunk by the time Will meets Skylar.

As is true with many overused words, four-letter words have innumerable synonyms as well as slang terms.

W. C. Fields, unable to curse on film during the Hayes Code era, came up with “Godfrey Daniel” and “Mother-of-pearl,” said with equal force and conviction.

However, when it comes to expletives, most of us don’t look around for creativity, and go straight to the most common and most familiar.

Not knowing (or caring) that each time it depletes the impact.

More than once, I was told the unthinkable by college students. There was a time it would have meant expulsion.

Walking across campus one day behind members of our men’s basketball team, I realized they only knew about nine or 10 words.


One screenwriter and film director was chided for the number of profanities in one of his films: “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

So David Mamet wrote and directed a film with none. Can you name it?

There are PG films that feature foul-mouthed kids. In PG-13 and R, shut the door.

Watching “The Bad News Bears” in 1976 I asked myself, “Did I talk like that in Little League”?

“No” was the answer.

Where would some music be if not for profanities? It’s too bad the Beatles and Bob Dylan didn’t take advantage of the allowances made for every perceivable vulgarity.

Go ahead and swear. Now and then there’s nothing more satisfying.

But over and over and all the time, it’s tiresome and dumb.

Some readers might respond to this commentary with one finger, raised in my direction, as a non-verbal expletive, as it were.

The omniscience of the middle finger as a gesture of obscenity is equal and concurrent with uttered profanities, and can be witnessed almost everywhere.

Why not?

We’re easily offended and disrespected. In some parts of the country, however, disrespecting someone won’t be settled with curse words or fingers.

But with guns.

Curse words or curse words and guns are requisite in the scripts of just about every contemporary film.

Who wants to see a film that doesn’t have any dirty words or people getting shot?

It would be un-American, wouldn’t it?

Steve Martin starred in the complex noir film “The Spanish Prisoner,” written and directed profanity-free by David Mamet.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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