Don't go there!
It was an informal after-hours gathering at a colleague's house. We lapsed into talking shop, cheerfully describing the foibles of absent colleagues and the sins of wayward students. I began to recount the tale of a peevish student who got upset near the end of the semester that I would not guarantee his A in the class.
He was one of those extremely bright and extremely lazy students who had never had to break into a sweat in any of his previous classes, so he was offended that matters were proving to be just a little more difficult in calculus. He also liked to arrive late or skip class, so it was extremely unfair of me to average in zeros for all the assignments and quizzes he had missed. He was at risk of getting a B if he did not blow the doors off the final exam. It made him very unhappy.
Could I guarantee his A? No. Could he withdraw from the class? No; too late. He did not come back to class after our discussion and I noticed that he had magically vanished from my class roster. Somehow he had finagled special permission to wipe the slate clean despite having missed the drop deadline. I was deeply dismayed that someone had been willing to pull strings on the little prima donna's behalf, ensuring further postponement of a lesson in responsibility that he seriously needed to learn. In fact, I was more than dismayed. I was angered by his success at gaming the system. I told my colleagues:
“That little shit worked some angle and managed to talk a lamebrain flunky in administrative services into preserving his delicate little butt from the risk of getting a demerit on his transcript.”
My complaint was greeted with knowing chuckles. My colleagues had all met such students. One of my listeners, however, had a bemused smile on his face for a different reason.
“Hey, didn't anyone notice? Zee said ‘shit.’ Jesus Christ, Zeno, how much did that little fucker piss you off if you're starting to swear now?”
Busted! My exceedingly observant colleague was correct. I probably have the cleanest mouth in the math department. Perhaps the entire school. Hell, in all of North America, with the possible exception of a few convents. It rather sets me apart from my fellow math professors. It sure as hell sets me apart from my students. (Notice how I use “hell” for emphatic stress as if it still retains some currency as a profanity? Heck, how sad is that?)
My students, both male and female, litter their language with the f-word and don't even bat an eye. They stroll by with their cell phones stuck in their ears and the profanity flows freely and casually. Fascinating. That's how denatured profanity has become. F-bombs used to create shock waves in my youth. Today there's barely a tremor.
I never use the f-word myself (see how demurely I use the euphemism?), with minor exceptions for when I'm quoting others (see above, for example, or Dick Cheney). And the time when a young friend died as we sat vigil in the intensive care unit. On that occasion I combined it with some suitable blasphemy, which might have offended God if only he had remembered to exist.
It's perhaps even worse that I am a liberal blogger. I don't fit in. My leftish peers are decidedly more pungent in their prose than than those who describe themselves as wingnuts—I mean, conservatives. (Sorry.) The right-wing blogs even take quite a bit of pride in how clean their language is. Frankly, I think they should pay more attention to what they say than how they say it, but that appears not to concern them. (I guess it's okay to support torture if you say it nicely.)
My Listerined language is yet another item on the tally sheet that suggests I could be a repressed right-winger. I don't drink. I don't use drugs (except for those which are duly prescribed by a physician). I don't sport any tattoos or piercings. My hair is short. I often wear ties. I am thoroughly white-bread retro-conventional. I could infiltrate a Republican gathering without anyone being the wiser. (Of course, I'd have to bone up on my profanity if I were slipping into a meeting of McCain's campaign leadership.)
I was even mistaken for a Mormon once.
Even so, I have no big plans to change. I'm perfectly happy with my clean-mouthed lifestyle, supplemented as it is by a simply enormous vocabulary. There may even be advantages. For example, an epithet like “shithead” would just roll off my kid brother's back, but “microcephalic imbecile” always seemed to offend him quite satisfactorily.
My avoidance of Carlin's notorious seven dirty words may be a slight handicap, and will surely prevent my becoming a celebrated rap artist, but I'll manage somehow. And frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.