I owe an apology, in advance, to Emily Post. Not just the renowned author of books on etiquette, but also her doppelgänger, my mother, who was her spiritual twin.

Mom and Emily were in cahoots for years. From an early age, I was taught to set the table (knife blade facing the plate); to write thank-you notes, avoid slurping and refrain from interrupting conversations. Not that I always followed these rules, but they were drilled into my young brain in the hope that they would form the basis of lifelong habits.

Where this training succeeded least was in the matter of profanity. My mother firmly believed that swearing revealed a thin, third-rate vocabulary – that it was a grammatical last resort. Why else would one revert to such crudeness?

So it was that I was banished from the dinner table one night during high school for my ill-chosen words. I had opted for an expletive when I could just as well have produced something more ladylike – or, at least more to my mother’s liking.

Around this time, my mother also mentioned that one of the things that had first drawn her to my father was his politeness. As a young man, he never swore but instead used terms like “gosh” and “darn.” While it’s true that my dad was an old-fashioned gentleman, by the time I was growing up, he had acquired some saltier lingo. There were times when he and I were in the proverbial doghouse together, our shoddy, misbegotten word choices a source of my mother’s dismay.

Yet there’s a case to be made for profanity. Some would even say that there’s an art to swearing. You know when it’s done well. It’s spare, purposeful, pointed – and often disarmingly funny. Beyond just letting off steam, there’s value in finding the most fitting word for the occasion, in expressing oneself well, in the eloquence of the perfect curse.

Abundant vocabulary, be damned!

Many polylingual speakers, with far bigger lexicons than most of us possess, engage in profanity because it serves a particular, often emphatic, purpose. Besides, a broad vocabulary encompasses the full bandwidth of language – high and low, vulgar and slang, plus everything in between. That’s not to suggest that profanity should replace mainstream language, especially when better, more precise terms are available; only that it has a role and a place, albeit limited, in polite circles.

Of course, Emily Post would have been appalled by this argument, and my mother would have been slack-jawed as well. But let’s put this in perspective: I’m arguing against censorship, in favor of thoughtful, deliberate speech, and the value of learning how and when to use irreverent language. In an age when people tweet before they think, a bit of time-honored verbal forethought would go a hell of a long way.

— Special to the Telegram