Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

Just Thinking about Shit

Once upon a long time ago I did a bit of in-depth research to discover which word among all those we regard as expletives (not in the syntactical sense, of course) was used most generously among our people on a day-today basis—that is, which was uttered most frequently in any of its possible forms. The f—- word, as it is called, came in a distant second to the winner of this competition: SHIT.

From the Middle English word shitan comes our modern-day powerpacked, multifaceted sh-i-i-i-t-uh, which even without much effort can be delivered with the umph of an Assembly of God evangelist. It, or one of its derivatives, may be used as virtually any part of speech, and it flings a wide linguistic net.

The winner of the four-letter competition almost had to come from our excremental or reproductive organs or functions, for swearing is elemental and rises from the limbic portion of the brain; hence it is bestial in origin. That is not to say that such utterances are not an improvement over action. They keep us from killing one another or tearing up everything dear to us, including our children, furniture, teeth, and knuckles. As Mark Twain once said, “When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.”

When I was a child, my parents taught me that only those incapable of speaking good English swore; I observed among my kin many who swore a lot less than they should have. In fact some of the brightest men I ever knew, some of the best educated, swore wonderfully. “A footman may swear,” Jonathan Swift once wrote, “but he cannot swear like a lord. He can swear as often: but can he swear with equal delicacy, propriety, and judgment?” We must remember how beautifully Mark Twain could roll the curses off his tongue. One morning when he cut himself shaving, he raged at the face in the mirror, not noticing his dainty wife, Livvy, standing in the doorway. When he was finished blistering his image, she stepped forward and repeated, word for word, what he had said. He looked at her, a tight smile on his face.

“Livvy, my dear, you have the words right, but you do not have the music.”

-54-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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