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In Defense of Cussing

Last week, Arizona State Senator Lori Klein proposed a law that would make it a fireable offense for K-12 public school teachers to repeatedly swear in the classroom. “These are young, impressionable minds,” she explained. “We want to fill them with the highest ideals, values and education that we can.” Yes, we agree. (Who doesn’t?) The issue we respectfully take with Senator Klein, though, is that a distinction must be made between teachers swearing in front of students and teachers swearing at students.

If a second-grade teacher, say, channeled Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket by telling his students that they “had best unfuck themselves” or he would “fuck them up,” we’d assume he’d be dismissed.

Especially if he did so repeatedly...

What a shame it would be, though, if a high school music teacher were disciplined for explaining why, in 1966, Bob Dylan instructed his band to plug in and “play it fucking loud” after the folk-fanatic crowd at Royal Albert Hall chanted “Judas!” upon seeing amplifiers onstage. Dylan said neither “play it really loud” nor “play it super-duper loud” for a very specific reason:

Neither of those statements would have given birth to rock and roll.

Like the exclamation point, sharp language has become overused and, when combined with hate, can indeed endanger the welfare of students. But when deftly employed at opportune times by thoughtful individuals, there are few more magical words than the seven you cannot say on TV.

In honor of yesterday’s holiday, we leave you (and the next generation of ladies and gentlemen from the state of Arizona) with some exceptional moments in presidential swearing...

Boys, I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad. And he wouldn’t know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel. —Lyndon Johnson, regarding an aide to President Kennedy

I’m still looking for whose ass to kick. —Barack Obama to Matt Lauer, re: the Gulf of Mexico oil spill

This guy’s an asshole. —George W. Bush to Dick Cheney, regarding New York Times reporter Adam Clymer

Major league. —Dick Cheney to George W. Bush, in response

I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you? —Bill Clinton to a Philadelphia radio station host after being questioned about his support of racial equality issues

I fired Douglas MacArthur because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. —Harry Truman, reflecting on his decision to relieve the US commander in Korea

It was 28-9 in favor of Dallas. And now it’s 31-24, the Redskins have come back. Very close. This is a key play... Hit ’em. Hit ’em. Hit ’em! Hit ’em! ... They didn’t hit him, goddamn it! Son of a bitch. —Richard Nixon, watching a football game with his daughter at Camp David, 1972

Play it fucking loud.