I used to have a middle-class, religious allergy to expletives, but gradually I’ve lost it. There are a number of reasons: expletives can be liberating, they can work well, they get another’s attention, and they have a fascinating history. Yeah, I know. Some would interpret the return to colorful expletives as indicative of the demise of civility. I suppose I could blame my dad—one of those earthy Southern Baptists. But I don’t take expletives too seriously. Although the almost inane use of the F---- word in some movies is boring. Still, in a flush of verbiage, I recently clarified a number of personal expletives in an often-read blog.
So I was amused by John Boehner’s insult of Harry Reid, reported in both Politico and the Washington Post. As Politico first noted, House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t hold back when he spotted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the White House lobby last Friday.
It was only a few days before the nation would go over the fiscal cliff, no bipartisan agreement was in sight, and Reid had just publicly accused Boehner of running a “dictatorship” in the House and caring more about holding on his gavel than striking a deal.
“Go f— yourself,” Boehner sniped as he pointed his finger at Reid, according to multiple sources present.
Reid, a bit startled, replied: “What are you talking about?”
Boehner repeated: “Go f— yourself.”
Alexandra Petri commented in her Post article regarding the same episode reported that she missed the euphemistic contortions of pre-internet life that would result in a statement, like, “The speaker of the House told the Senate majority leader that he hoped he would take more pleasure than usual in his own company.”
Of course, political insults have always been with us. My favorite is one of the canonical examples Petri refers to: “Mr. Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die on the gallows or of the pox!” “That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles your principles or your mistress.”
Then too, the not so holy scripture is rife with insults. The Old Testament prophets were scathing—at least in the original Hebrew. And Paul the apostle on occasion used the term me genito which translates easily into “hell no.” And when he attempts even more colorful scatology, the expurgated version translates “shit” into a milder “dung.” My Kentucky grandmother, who used to reward my cute ways with “you little shit,” would enjoy that.