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Barbara's Column
January  2004 #4

Two decades later,
FinCom goo-goo still listening for 'low' language
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, January 30, 2004

As if we don't have enough to worry about, there is currently a debate concerning the use of the "f-word." 

The real version of "f-ing" has slipped into occasional usage on the public airwaves as an adjective or adverb - what the FCC considers "an intensifier," as opposed to a verb about sex. Responding to public concern, the FCC is meeting to discuss reinstating a total ban.

This reminds me of my favorite personal story about being a public speaker, which is timely because it was updated this month when I was on the David Brudnoy show discussing property tax issues. Jack Williams was the guest host. Toward the end of my half hour, a woman called in, said she had been on a town finance committee, and launched into a tirade about what a terrible person I am. Since I have heard it all before from various sources, I was only half-listening, except for one part that caught my attention: She said I use "low language."

When she had finished, I laughed and noted only that I found this one phrase an odd accusation. But when I was off the air, it suddenly came to me who the caller was and to what she was referring: The one time in my public life that I used the "f-word."

It was, I think, in 1986. I was working on a ballot campaign, which meant many debates at breakfast, lunch and evening forums. Still, l accepted an invitation to address a weekend meeting of the Association of Town Finance Committees.

Keep in mind that I wasn't going to be paid for this, that I was doing it on my limited free time. But I was eager to thank finance committee members who had done all the hard work on implementing Proposition 2 <1/2> in their communities, and to alert them to some pending legislation that I thought might be costly to the towns.

During the pre-lunch gathering, a woman approached me and asked if she could speak with me privately. When we stepped out into the hallway she said, "I hope you are going to behave yourself."

She looked like what I call a "League of Women Voters type" - perhaps unfairly, but the League has been a longtime taxpayer opponent, so I have a prejudice.

I recall a skirted suit, properly knotted scarf, pumps, hair and makeup carefully done. (A contrast to my usual slacks and jacket, with boots or sneakers. Did I remember to comb my hair? And, how do you tie that scarf thing again?)

She bustled, and her lips were pursed in disapproval. And she went on:

"You have a reputation, you know. And this is a high-class group. So I hope your speech will be appropriate."

I did not lose my temper. I remember clearly that I was very calm, and quickly made a very deliberate decision on how to respond.

Smiling, I said, "Lady, I have been addressing business, service, college, religious and government groups for eight years; I don't need you to tell me how to give a effing speech." Only I didn't say "effing."

Well, the result was everything I'd hoped - a cartoon come to life. She paled, then flushed; her eyes widened, her eyebrows lifted, her mouth dropped open, and she rocked back on her little heels. Then I walked away and gave my planned thank-you speech to the association, adding a few negative but high-language words about the Dukakis administration, of course.

One evening shortly after this, I received a call from Jon Keller, who was subbing for David Brudnoy. He said a woman had just called the show to tell his radio audience that I had used the "f-word." And he let me come on and tell my story, using the euphemism of course.

That was the end of it until this month, when - I know it was she! - that same woman called again. After 18 years, she is still obsessing about my "low language"! Readers, when it comes to driving your enemies to distraction, it just doesn't get any better than this.

So my opinion on the use of the "f-word" is this: It should not be commonly heard on radio and television, or anywhere else. It should be saved, rationed, hoarded, until the day when it is really, really needed: When someone tells you to "behave yourself," and there is simply no other word that will do as a response.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.

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