“Watch them words, gentlemen. Watch them words.”

If you are a John Ford or John Wayne fan, you’ll recognize this admonition. It’s from the classic western, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” The sergeant major, played by that marvelous old scene-stealer Victor McLaglen, was cautioning the troops on their deportment because they would be escorting two ladies to the nearest stagecoach stop.

I thought of the line this morning. I was waiting in the cold for the bus. A man was also waiting and decided to share his opinion of the service on First Avenue. The fact that I had never seen him before in my life did not prevent him from purpling the air with obscenities and blasphemy. I said quietly that I didn’t want to listen to his language and then I turned away. He proceeded to repeat it loudly. I guess he wanted me to know it was his First Amendment right. Somehow, I don’t think this is what the people who wrote the First Amendment had in mind.

And since today is George Washington’s actual birthday, I might add that I cannot imagine that country gentleman, who may well have had a fairly vivid vocabulary, unleashing it in the presence of his wife, other women or strangers.

This blog is not my personal rant room, but I know that I am not the only person who is weary of hearing obscenities. The word that especially irks me is the one that earned Ralphie a mouthful of Ivory soap in “A Christmas Story.” Now it’s an adjective. I am so sick of it.

But most of all, I object to the name of Jesus being used to open sentences or as a general comment. It’s blasphemous and, for the record, we haven’t repealed the Second Commandment.

What are we teaching our children when we use or tolerate this language? A rather poor lesson, I fear. Besides, children are like little sponges. They pick up everything in their hearing. Ralphie learned his bad language from his father. Think of the reaction if your child uncorked an obscenity in the White House or  St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The first thing people would think is that the kid learned it from you.

So how do you stop this? By having the courage to tell an offender you don’t like it, you don’t want to hear it, and that free speech is not an excuse. And of course, don’t use it yourself, even you have turned into a Popsicle by the time the bus arrives.

By the way, if you’re interested to know how the troops responded to the sergeant major’s etiquette lesson, an anonymous voice shouted back from the ranks, “Watch them grammar!”

But that’s a rant for another day.

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