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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Plainfielder finds profanity ain't what it used to be

'Profanity' complaint forcing loss of B-I-O-C-H vanity plate.

This Plainfielder has been alternately amused, bemused and confused about the flap over a Manville woman's B-I-O-C-H vanity plate and the state's determination that it should be recalled after a so-called 'retired cop' complained it was 'profane' (see Courier story here; it was also previously reported in the Ledger here).

In the hellfire-and-brimstone conservative culture in which I was raised, PROFANITY had an exact meaning -- taking the name of God or things associated with God in vain. (I even remember a Sunday School class in which Elmer Thies, self-appointed patriarch of the congregation, inveighed against taking an oath that involved swearing 'so help me God'.)

Now this was farming country and vulgar language and cursing abounded, though in general profanity as defined above was not heard.

Wherever men congregated, whether at the feed store, the blacksmith's or the saloon, rough language was heard. In those days, women generally forbade it in the house, and we kids picked up and adopted the difference without ever a question as to whether we were caught in a situation of 'double standards'.

That was a much simpler time.

How PROFANITY has changed!

The poor woman is being forced by the state to give up a plate that the elders of my youth would have considered only 'vulgar' and not rising to the level of 'profanity'
since the Lord's name is not being taken in vain (though they would have been utterly nonplussed about what a 'vanity plate' is).

Checking with my online fallbacks -- Wikipedia (here) and the Free Dictionary (here) -- I was disappointed to find that all the distinctions have been conflated. All the definitions -- vulgar, profane, irreverent, 'adult language' -- are now considered interchangeable.

Poor old Elmer Thies must be spinning in his grave. Even among the workers in his welding shop, I frequently (from the tender age of 7 or so) heard the 'S' bomb, the 'F' bomb, the 'SOB' bomb and worse -- though no 'profanity' as I knew it.

But the travails of the Manville motorist gave me an idea.

Perhaps the state's screening software could still be got around, as she had done.

So, I went to the online vanity plate ordering section (see here), to find that you had to register online -- including lots of ID -- after which the MVC would MAIL you a 'user ID number' (for security reasons, they say), which you could then use to log on and order the plates.

What century are these folks living in? Did I have to use a quill pen? Everyone gives secures passwords online these days. So, New Jersey is behind the tech curve? Who knew?

Turning to Google, I quickly found a bunch of sites that help you design your vanity plate, including MySpaceProDesigns (see here), which has a fun tool to design a vanity plate for any state you wish.

Where I was able to design for myself the TRULY PROFANE vanity plate below --

Zounds is an archaic profane oath.

ZOUNDS is a conflation of 'by God's wounds', a mild -- but profane -- oath rarely heard these days, but once common (see here) and used by Shakespeare in Othello and Romeo and Juliet.

Can it sneak by the state's software?

Someone else will have to let me know, I haven't got time to wait for them to mail me back a username.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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