Author takes swearing to the curb

Book: Cursing, especially while driving, can be a hard habit to break. But Jim O'Connor aims to make it easier.

April 15, 2000|By Jim Shea | Jim Shea,HARTFORD COURANT

Swearing, first-rate swearing, is an art.

It is a unique form of expression in which the practitioner is bounded solely by his or her ability to weave off-color language into an often stunningly original tapestry.

Sadly, however, the medium has been taken over by a paint-by-numbers crowd that is totally lacking in creativity, nuance and, most annoyingly, discretion.

Jim O'Connor is out to change that.

The Illinois public-relations executive wants to curb the pervasive cursing that he says has wagged and wiggled its salty-tongue way into every corner of our culture.

To this end he has written a book called "Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How To Curb Your Cursing" (Three Rivers Press, $12.95).

"Swearing is just so commonplace these days," O'Connor says. "No matter where you go -- in the office, walking down the street, watching television, at the ballpark and especially in the movies -- you hear it all the time.

"I think more people are offended by swearing than we think. That's because it is rare for someone to go up to someone else and ask them not to swear. So, as a consequence, people tend to think it is all right. But I don't think swearing is accepted as much as it is tolerated."

It might be tempting to dismiss O'Connor as just some crusading blankety-blank goody-two-shoes. He has, after all, done about 400 radio interviews as well as several television shows, including "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

But in conversation he comes across as even-keeled, rational, down to earth and possessing an easy sense of humor.

Most important, he is not one of those people who has seen the light and come away with a mission to make sure everyone else is properly illuminated.

"I'm not a big preacher," O'Connor says. "There is nothing you can do about other people's swearing. You have to be concerned about yourself."

And just what of O'Connor?

"I think recovering is a good word to use in regard to me," O'Connor says. "I still swear from time to time, but I try to be more discreet about it. Usually no one hears me, but if they do, it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to break the habit."

O'Connor says he was inspired to write "Cuss Control" after deciding to curb his own cursing.

"I decided I was going to stop swearing, but I found it was a difficult habit to break. So I had to figure out how to do it, and I thought there were probably other people out there who wished they didn't swear. And seeing there were no books on the subject, I decided I would be the one to write one."

While O'Connor concedes that most people today will probably not complain if you swear, that doesn't mean they are not judging you.

"Your choice of words determines whether you are viewed as mature, intelligent, polite and pleasant or rude, crude, insensitive and abrasive," O'Connor says.

O'Connor divides swearing into two categories: casual and causal.

"I think causal swearing is the more defensible of the two," he says, "because it is usually provoked by an emotion and is very hard to resist.

"Casual swearing is just lazy language. You just do it out of habit without even trying to think of a better word. This often projects a negative attitude. It's not just the words but the attitude behind them that also reflects poorly on your personality."

Because of this relationship, O'Connor says, one key to breaking the cussing habit is learning to cope with situations -- to be more patient, more tolerant. He points to his own driving as an example.

"I think this is the one area in which I have made the most improvement," he says. "Men, in general, tend to take driving personally. You know, `That guy cut me off.' Well, he didn't cut you off; he cut your car off."

In terms of the generational divide, O'Connor says youths today are more foul-mouthed than ever.

"Kids today are growing up in a cursing culture," O'Connor says. "They hear it among their friends, in the movies, on cable and network television. Many even hear it coming from their parents. It is difficult for them to see anything wrong with it when they hear it everywhere they turn."

While having no illusions about totally eliminating cursing -- the book's title is, after all, "Cuss Control" -- O'Connor believes a significant dent can be made.

"We are almost at the saturation point in regard to swearing, and I think the book is helping to create an awareness that wasn't there before," he says. "I know a lot of people receive this book anonymously. Someone buys it for them, and it makes them think.

"Take ethnic slurs. We've definitely reduced the number you hear now. They've become politically incorrect. So there's hope."

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