Salty Language Advisory – Redux

In honor of “Talk Like a Pirate Day” today, this post comes to us from the archives, gratitude to Dale Connelly.

With some sharp language-related news cutting through the air of late involving the U.S. Navy and some people standing in the road in North Carolina, I thought it would be enlightening to consult with someone I consider to be an expert in the field of salty talk, the skipper of the pirate clipper Muskellunge, Captain Billy.

I tossed some relevant press clippings into a bottle and launched it down the Mississippi through a hole in the ice near Fridley about a week ago, and much to my surprise a reply from the Captain arrived on my desk late last night, boldly dashed on a piece of damp parchment by someone using a parrot feather dipped in pomegranate juice. I deduce that it came from somewhere in the southern climes. Maybe Mendota Heights or even as far away as Cottage Grove!


Many thanks fer yer question about public language an’ what is an’ what ain’t considered foul!

As Cap’n of a pirate ship, people automatically assumes I has a sharp tongue, a form of stereotypin’ which I resents. Me and me boys labors under heavy expectations from landlubbers regardin’ our manner of public discourse.

Fer instance, if’n one of me boys enters a waterfront saloon anywhere in th’ world, he ain’t taken serious until he either punches somebody’s lights out or utters at least a half dozen choice curse words in th’ local dialect. This gets t’ be a problem on account of th’ vast number of places we visits an’ all th’ different local standards fer rough talk. We ain’t scholars out here, an’ it’s quite a chore t’ keep up wi’ current foul language fashions.

Believe it or don’t, a surprising number of me boys is kind hearted souls who took t’ th’ life of piratin’ t’ get away from uncouth situations at home, an’ they ain’t much inclined to employ harsh language anyhow. They often declines shore leave, on account of th’ fact that it’s too much work to make th’ kind of impression a pirate has to make merely to get served a beer in some places.

But I caution’s ye against thinkin’ pirates is in any way refined. I prefers t’ think we’s Libertarians, language-wise. On board th’ Muskellunge there’s no rules about what a pirate can or can’t say, an’ that goes both ways. Most standard obscenities is allowed as well as any kind of precious, non-piratical sissy words like “Gosh”, “Jeepers” an’ “Swell.”

Where I draws th’ line is attitude. Me boys is not permitted t’ be mean spirited towards one another or anyone else, unless it has t’ do wi’ official pirate business, such as pillagin’ a quiet coastal town or ransackin’ a defenseless vessel.

Th’ one spoken word I never wants to hear on board th’ Muskellunge is th’ last name of that famous FAKE movie pirate, Johnny Depp. If’n one of me boys curses another with a “God Depp” or a “Depp You” or a “you’s a no good barnacle Depper,” I’ll wash his mouth out with a fruity wine cooler – a horrible insult t’ any boy what loves his grog.

Yers in love o’ th’ language,

Capt. B.

The captain has a strong point that the “bad”ness of words is more a question of local custom than universal truth, and the attitude we bring to any exchange is more important that what is actually said. Given that, I do think he is a bit of a hypocrite for taking such an uncharitable attitude toward Johnny Depp.

Do you have to watch your language?

80 thoughts on “Salty Language Advisory – Redux”

  1. Before I became the editor of an outdoor magazine I was a graduate student for many years. Academics spoke a form of English that was mostly clean, if sometimes pretentious. But the folks I mixed with as an outdoor editor were vastly more profane and earthy. I was obliged to become bilingual, altering my speech according to audience.

    I once returned from a bizarre Ontario fishing trip where my friends and I were thrown together with the most profane and drunken people I’ve ever encountered. The setting was a backwoods pulp mill town hotel, and the prominent characters was a stripper and prostitute. My story about our trip included every word George Carlin told us we couldn’t use on TV, plus several more that were worse.

    My daughter–about four years old at the time–was on the fringes of the family group when I told the stories about our trip. I thought she was too little to even know which words were bad. But I later heard her retelling my story, word for word, to her neighborhood friends, and it was obvious she knew what the words meant. Oh dear. It was clear that I needed to clean up my mouth, at least around home.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. It does seem to be true that my language use changes depending on the company I am in. I’ve noticed my own usage changing like the weather in Minnesota. I think I am in control of it, then I find myself cursin’ like Cap’n Billy. Aaarrrhh, mateys, but it’s nice to hear from him!
    I hope you are all well, my friends. I’m just here looking for something to believe in.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Good memories!
    I don’t have to watch my language. I’ve rarely utter the Carlin words out loud. I prefer “maternal reproducer” to…you know…the other saying. It works best for me to ration my profanity. One day myself and another guy were working at Eventide Nursing home just down the street from Concordia College in Moorhead. My boss, Donald Harney, was notorious for showing up at the worst times for we installer’s. We were having a challenging drop of linoleum and sure enough, here comes Don! He stepped on our sheet and cracked it badly. I said, “Damnit Harney! Get out of here!” The stubby cigar, he always had in his mouth, dropped to the floor and he was GONE! “Damn” is pretty mild now but my policy if you’re gonna swear make it count.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Well, I do cuss, but I must not do it as much as I think, because I cussed at work on a particularly exasperating moment during our office move this summer, and the people who heard me were shocked and they spread the news around work that I had got really angry.

    A dear work friend says the F word at least once in every conversation.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. I’m not fond of profanity, but lately I have to admit it’s very difficult to express how angry and frustrated I am without it. At work I never thought it was appropriate to curse, although heaven knows there were many times when I would have liked to.

    I know people who use profanity the way Steve described it. Their speech, and even their writing, is liberally sprinkled with f-bombs. To my mind, when profanity is used that way, it looses all effectiveness. When used only rarely, as in Renee’s example, it has a lot more impact.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. OK. So WP did take that.

      I have a potty mouth that I am pretty discreet about. When I was young I looked pretty angelic, as a teen and young adult I was pretty. Later I looked like someone’s mom and now grandma. No one has ever expected me to swear, but I do. Or at the very least, I say an unexpected bawdy thing. So when I do say such a thing, it has an impact.

      When I worked with young adults and teens in CD treatment, the patients were pre-occupied with sex and human reproduction, as their hormones dictated. One sexually compulsive patient from a Southern state, was constantly pre-occupied with getting outside passes or trips home with the priority of engaging in his compulsion. In front of his peers, who thought of me as “mom,” he was making a weak case to me for a visit home for the funeral of a distant relative who he cared for only a bit. This drug addicted, learning disabled poor student who could not execute a plan, had priced round trip airline tickets, found someone to pick him up from the airport, packed his suitcase and was ready to go.

      I responded, “Gosh, Andy, that takes a lot of planning and work just to get laid.”

      He was so shocked, he just sat down on the floor while his peers broke into laughter. He did not get the pass to go home.

      When my friend and former Child Protection team-mate get together and remember old cases, we leave our spouses speechless, both from our language expressing frustration with the system, and the content of the cases.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. When I give a Rorschach Inkblot Test, I have to write down verbatim what the client says as their perceptions of the blots because I have to read their answers back to them during the inquiry portion of the test . During my internship at the VA hospital, some of the veterans included cuss words in their answers, and they were really embarrassed when I read back to them what they had said.

        Liked by 7 people

      1. Meant to go under Rise and… Reminds me of when my best friend and I were on “Wake-up Duty” in the sorority house – we’d go into the cold air dorm and were supposed to just announce say Rise & Shine or something, and the time – at 6:40, 6:50, and 7 a.m. Our call was a sing-song:
        Good Morning, good morning, good morning morning morning.
        How’d ya like to bite my ass good morning to you!

        Liked by 5 people

  6. My former lover, partner and housemate, Morgan (the one who died of ALS in 2015), could really make your ears curl. I’m not usually too uncomfortable around strong language – I use it myself, I do – but he could really make me squirm and blush. I learned lots of new words and new combinations of old words from him. Talk about colorful!
    RIP, Morgan, d*mn you, I miss your skinny *ss!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Strong language when artfully deployed can be very effective. Trae Crowder, a stand up comic who refers to himself as The Liberal Redneck, uses language that sounds quite natural in his mouth but that I would never be able to pull off.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I posted something from Trae Crowder on my Facebook page after 45 was elected. I got a sort of gentle rebuke from someone I don’t know very well. I know she was trying to strike a balance and be fair, but I couldn’t help it – Crowder’s commentary was so dead on. You just had to say Amen.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. only in the trail and most recently around that salty little grands son on mine who is really good at repeating gosh darn it and all the variations he hears hanging around bashful little me arrrgggggg

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This made me think of a cartoon a friend of mine posted in honor of “Talk Like a Pirate” day. The captain of the pirates ship lectures his crew: There’s no “I” in “team.” One of the crew members responds: and no “I” in aye, aye! Another crew member mumbles: Is this a pirate ship or a spelling bee? to which his buddy – a short bespectacled guy – responds: How many “r’s” in “arrrrrrrgh”?

      Liked by 5 people

  8. In my magazine editing days, I wrote an article about the history of angling in the Midwest. A famous tackle shop owner told me his business was sleepy until two flashy angler/guide characters promised to put Nisswa on the map as the best place to fish in the state. The tackle shop guy said, “I told my wife either the Lord had answered our prayers or I just met the two biggest bullshitters in the nation.”

    I paused a bit on that. But that word isn’t lewd or blasphemous. It refers to a common substance found around cattle. Strictly speaking, it referred to people who exaggerate. And my interviewee was widely known as a religious, likable guy. So I left the word in my article.

    I was blindsided by the reaction. The word that seemed mild to me caused several readers to threaten canceling their subscriptions. That was in the 1970s. I fear readers would not react with as much ferocity.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. My dad always said when I was growing up that swearing was just lazy. He always thought there were so many better words that could be used instead of cursewords. I don’t swear a lot but when I do it’s almost in an automatic response to either stubbing my toe or dropping something in the kitchen or something falling off the counter onto my foot and then the F word flies out practically on its own.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I once worked with a guy whose last name was Salyer. He and his wife has a baby son they named Duncan. There was a lot of consternation in the office at the time that a kid named Duncan Salyer was going to get a hard time about it.

        I don’t know if that turned out to be true, though – maybe kids of his time weren’t familiar with the Drunken Sailor chorus.

        Liked by 5 people

  10. As many folks point out, blue language often reflects a lazy mind. Bad words are the easy way to say something pungent without having to think. But as a person who tries to use words carefully, I’m occasionally bothered because there is no polite word that works as well as an impolite word. For example, “cluster(f-word)” says something that I can’t quite express with nice words. I am never, never, never tempted to use the “b-word” to refer to a woman. But there is an “a-word” for men that simply has no polite equivalent. The past three and a half years have tested my soul and my vocabulary because I have so many opportunities to use that word.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Steve, you’ve never met a woman with a RBF and felt the need to comment? (Resting bi**h face).
      Never to their face of course unless they bring it up first.
      I was so stunned to learn that term a few years ago because it is the perfect description for some people. They’re not necessarily bad people, they just have a RBF. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Since you asked, the answer is no. That word is too toxic for me, even for my inner monologue. I think the b-word is linked in my mind to politics that I find totally disgusting. I can’t make myself say that word even when referring to a female dog.


  11. I have just now swore at the TV. Watching old Untouchables. The bad guy played by Carroll O’connor blew cigar smoke on his mob moll’s pet buddies. “You f….er!”
    I’ve never seen this episode but it looks like the birds are carriers of an infection that will afflict humans. Revenge seems eminent.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The bag man lives. His sister, the mob gal dies. The news goes out about parrot fever. O’connor panics and is caught by Ness. The voice over relates President Hoover’s law against importation of parrots. The birds win.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I have done a lot more swearing in the last four years than my prior 5 decades. And more in the last six months or so than I should admit. It was positively raining F-bombs on Friday when I heard the news about RBG.

    When I was involved in theater I often had to watch my language because of the age of some of the actors in the shows. Working for a high school program meant finding lots of ways to express frustration without being vulgar. 2020 has ripped that band-aid off once and for all.

    There are times, though, that the slightly silly “dangnabbit” is still more appropriate than anything earthier. 😏

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I like “dangnabbit,” but don’t think I’d ever be able to think of it in a moment of acute need. But, if I could, it would feel quite at home in my mouth. I find “flabbergasted” fits a whole lot more naturally into my vocabulary than, say, “gobsmacked,” which just sounds pretentious to me. It’s like clothes, some just feel more like my “style” than others. It’s as if the idea I have of myself expresses itself in many ways, nothing too frilly or fancy fits comfortably.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. My mother would often call someone a “bloody bastard” when my sister and I were growing up. We heard it all the time, and didn’t think anything of it. When I, at the age of eleven, visited my aunt Bridie, her husband Peter, and their three children in Plymouth, I got in serious trouble for using what little English I could readily access when I got angry. A couple of years later, my sister was visiting that same family with mom, and Randi, too, got in trouble for saying that. Aunt Bridie simply didn’t use that kind of language, and didn’t tolerate it from her kids, but my sister and I both thought it perfectly normal.

          Liked by 3 people

  14. In A Man Called Ove, the English translator has Ove use bloody (a clipping of by our lady, swearing on Mary like swearing on the name of Jesus). I assume Swedes don’t use bloody. I wonder what he says in Swedish which cannot be easily translated into English. For awhile in England a few centuries back they would swear using parts of Jesus, such as snails for Jesus’ nails, or God’s wounds, which comes down as zounds.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. While working in Spain with a guy from Austria, I used “schweinhund”. It offended him. I had no idea how bad that was. Language has it’s own sensibilities.

      Liked by 4 people

  15. Why is it more blue collar workers than white collar who swear the most? Is it just circumstances and environment? Education?
    I’ve known some BC guys who are very educated and don’t swear more than WC guys who do. Interesting.

    When I was working as a stagehand, I’d be potty mouth for a week after one day working there.

    As others have said, with students around I have to be more careful, but, it’s not often they push me so far I feel the need to vent like that. I may have to go stand outside for a few minutes!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I wonder if the perception that blue collar workers swear more than white collar workers is true? I’ve never really worked around blue collar workers, but I’ve heard plenty of foul language among white collar ones. Behind closed doors, in management level meetings, they’d let it rip.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Kraftedeme! My sister’s first husband (she married our next door neighbor’s son) had an unbelievable potty mouth. It was such a steady stream of expletives from him, that it was almost painful to listen to him.

    At some point after Randi and he divorced, he moved to Tanzania, and lived there quite a few years. Eventually he was poisoned by the African wife of a Danish friend. Randi attended his funeral with their daughter (my niece) and gave me a delightful report on the ceremony. As a “wealthy” white man, he was given an elaborate ceremonial burial, attended by the entire village and a group of local Masai warriors. As it turned out, the hole that had been dug in advance of the ceremony to accommodate his casket wasn’t long enough, which put a temporary hold on the proceedings. I can still hear Kurt’s string of expletives from the coffin.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook:
    The nine levels of Midwestern anger:
    9. “For crying out loud.”
    8. “Woah, woah, woah!”
    7. “Hold your horses.”
    6. “Jeez Louise!’
    5. “For heaven’s sake.”
    4. “If I had nickel for every time…”
    3. “Well, now wait a minute.”
    2. “For Pete’s sake!”
    1. “Listen her pal.”

    Somehow, I don’t think this list has been updated for quite some time. Like several decades. It brings to mind a generation that is long gone.

    Liked by 2 people

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