I cuss, therefore I am

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Have you ever wondered how people came up with the axiom “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”?

Simple. It stands to reason that after hundreds of thousands of years of existence, the devil was finally able to read—and put to good use—”How to Build a Road to Hell for Dummies Volume 1.”

People never lack for good intentions. It’s like cooking. There’s always someone to improve on your latest kitchen invention. Say, for example, your Quadruple Inch-Thick Cheeses in Wagyu Burger buns. Serve it once in a backyard neighborhood cookout and you can bet your sweet gluteus maximus that someone’s out to take credit for your dish the next time around, and with upgrades to boot.

To spice up the fast food entrée, your next-door neighbor can wrap in footlong fried bacon strips topped with the fifth cheese—melted and hot off the pan—with oils as gelatinous as the fourth state of matter dripping on the sides for that extra shimmer.

The good intention: To offer the hungry neighbor a taste of a variety of meats—from pork to beef—all salted up by an array of cheeses, spices, toppings—the works. Heaven on a silver platter, that’s the idea.

What they’re not telling you, however, is this: You’re about a hair’s breadth away from suffering a stroke with every bite, to say little of the rumor that it takes a week to digest anything that comes close to a slab of pyramid rock from Giza. Let’s not even go to where you will have to endure the severest torture the next morning while on the can.

I have zero tolerance for laws and policies under the guise of promoting good behavior but disregarding constitutional rights. It’s as if good intentions, regardless of the breach of constitutional provisions, are the be-all and end-all of policy-making.

If so, then what are we a republic for? Why even bother having a Congress and a Senate? Let’s just do away with legislative bodies and their laws, and replace the Constitution with anything that grips our fancy. Pretending to be a nation when all we are is one big morality boot camp run by hypocrites… well, you know where we’ll all end. In the gutter.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for teaching Filipino children good manners. If there are no other lessons we could leave our children but those which shape them into productive members of society, then we are all richly rewarded for it.

However, legislating ‘good manners’ as a shortcut to the more exacting job of raising a child and spending time with them puts our children at great risk.

At risk of being hauled into jail if such laws are broken (if you think spending time with criminals is such a learning experience, try doing it yourselves); at risk of thinking that our laws are no better than the rules crafted in the home, with the power to call on punishment without further explanations.

So, may I ask: what’s the point of Baguio City banning cuss words?

This brings me back to certain memories of childhood. I was ‘round five or six when my family decided to have that long-awaited trek to Camarines Sur. My dad who worked then as a medical representative for Abbott Laboratories was assigned to Naga City.

I spent the early part of elementary education at the Naga Parochial School. I sensed early on that being a Tagalog-speaking boy could pose a problem for me. My father, who once sat with me to explain the rudiments of being bullied for being different, explained the importance of learning the language of the other kids. “Learn as much as you can so you will be able to understand what they are saying,” he said.

I began memorizing everything within earshot regardless of whether I understood the words or not. At five or six, my brain hadn’t suffered cobwebs yet, taking everything like one huge sponge. I was rather fortunate to come across kids who could speak Tagalog, and were kind enough to translate for me.

At home, I told my folks stories and related to them words and lines I’d learned. I recall my father laughing at the dinner table, to the consternation and shock of my mother. Little did I know back then that most of the words and lines I picked up were cuss words in Bicol.

My mother, the good Catholic that she was, told me to stop, but my father had the good nature to explain to her that it would be better for them, as parents, to teach me the importance of words than to leave the teaching to my friends. “I would rather that my son learns them from me,” my father insisted.

Busy as he was with the job of a medical representative, my father took the time to teach me from the dictionary. Before leaving the house in the morning, he left instructions on how I ought to spend my day.

“I want you, son, to take two new words of English and use them in 10 sentences. I want you to write them on yellow paper. When I get home tonight, I will explain to you what they are and how to use them well.”

Thus, my lessons in language began when I was five or six. My fondness for cartoons on television helped me in plotting out the words I hardly understood, like Popeye’s “shiver me timbers,” a phrase that expresses shock or annoyance.

It didn’t take long until I began encountering words that, for all intents and purposes, were considered swear words or cuss words. I was nearing my teens when I understood “shit” to mean “excrement,” or “bitch” to mean a female dog,

Even long after my father had to go into self-exile because of martial law, consulting the dictionary and learning words—their meanings and etymology—had become second nature to me. I had no inkling whatsoever back then that I would one day become a writer.

So, what’s the point of Baguio City banning cuss words when there’s a far superior way of teaching children the value and nuances of words? There’s no point in it at all. It’s another moralistic excuse to enforce rather than teach, because teaching takes time and effort and a continuing expression of love. Things which government is ignorant of.

Cussing is an expression used in the heat of either anger or surprise. At one point or the other, everyone has been guilty of it. The home is where children learn it first. The trick is to tell your children what these words mean, how they ought to be used. Language and its usage are fundamental lessons everyone ought to learn.

The lessons themselves, truth to tell, make little difference in human character. It’s the time parents spend with their children that is really life-changing. G




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