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September 15, 1958 - Image 49

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1958-09-15
This is a tabloid page

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

he Art o f ProantyRe-examined
Americans Swear Freely but with Little Imagination or Vigor_
By Dale McGhee

. Pursuing Peaceful Atoms
Phoenix Project Enters Its Second Decade
By Miehael Kraft

1Profanity is not an Ameri-
can art. The chief national
reliances are still hell and
damn, both of them badly
shopworn. To support them
we have nothing properly de-
scribable as a vocabulary of
indecency. Our maid-of-all-
work in that department is
's.o.b., which seems as pale and
ineffectual to a Slav or a Latin
as fudge does to us."
-H. L. Mencken
PROFANITY, swearing, eussing,
imprecation, malediction, call
it what you will, is here to stay.
Although the topic is rarely dis-
cussed publicly except from church
pulpits, profanity has prospered, in
volume if not in quality, through-
out the history of man.
Virtually everyone swears. Even
the most pious Baptist deacon may
be heard, upon occasion, to ex-
plode with a well directed "darn,"
Dale McGhee is a mild-
mannered person who has been
trying to improve the art of
profanity since he learned to
swear many years ago.

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or "dang it to blazes," or even "gee
whiz," all of which are bootlegged
mutations of language that would
earn any grade school urchin a
mouthful of Lifebouy.
But while modern Americans
swear with all the fluency of their
forebearers, it is indeed lamentable.
that they swear so poorly. Ameri-
cans, in fact occidentals in gen-
eral, couldn't be more unimagina-

tive and indiscriminate about their
IN SUNDRY AGES past profanity
flourished as an art. This is not
to imply that the powers-that-
were didn't place taboos on
naughty talk, but men neverthe-
less took pride ir their ability to
deliver an oratorical blitz in unique
and effective terms.

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In the Western world this pe-
jorative art probablyy, _had two
peaks. Late in the Elizabethan
Age, swearing reached a peak of
grandeous baroque floridness. It
might or might not be directed
swearing, but in either case it was
elaborate swearing, and often
--Any competent patron of any
competent English pub or French
oubrage could, should occasion
arise, spend a good hour raking
every member of your paternal
ancestry, and having exhausted
that, turn to your 'maternal line-
age, climaxing it all by directly
relating you to a fourth century
infidel who had, mated with a
syphlitic bullfrog.
IN THE LATE eighteenth century
swearing reached a peak of
deliberation, subtlety and purpose-
fulness. Robert Graves pointed out
in his lengthy essay on profanity
that in this period "swearing as an
assault on a coffee-house rival and
introductory :to a duel demanded
a nice refinement of oratorical
blasphemy; as the contemporary
sermon demanded a nice refine-
ment of oratorical eulogy."
But about this time the fuse of
the. Industrial Revolution got
started and everyone became so
involved in rigging together gears
and steam engines, they couldn't
take the time to dream up new
ways to swear. And thus the art
began to wane and was last seen
heading for oblivion along with
the American frontier.
What the American culture is
left with is a tragically thin and
banal assortment of leftovers: five
M:' f4 ti
W S}
K 4 y
r ,
Y '.
t U v w
or, six four-letter epithets which._
comprise virtually our entire pro-
fane vocabulary.
? Oh, certainly, we all know more
than sit swear words, most of them
crude, but only a few are com-
monly used. Catharsis of the na-
tional emotions is chiefly depend-
ent upon hell and damn, both used
and reused to the point of in- .
These few curses which are the
best we can come up with, are not
only pointless and often vulgar,
but they have lost all the color,
ferver, and effectiveness they once
held. In short, they no longer have
any sis-boom-bah.
Time was when someone called ,
you an s.o.b, you were ready for a
fight, since he was insulting your
mother, but today it's just another
bland epithet you toss in between
weakly formulated thoughts to
keep your audience from yawning,
which he may well do anyway.
AMERICANS don't lack the inn-
aginative powers to swear with 1
originality. Neither are they too i
lazy or apathetic. Worse yet: most
are totally unaware that they
could be swearing any better.
While every other art has con-
tinued to evolve and, remain dy-

namic, profanity has become s
degenerate throwback in a stag-
nant rut somewhat less effective
than cave man's cursory grunts.
Two remants of the art may be
found on the world scene today:
the Orient and Germany.
The Oriental bases his profanity
largely on animals and ancestors.
Since most Oriental cultures still
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<et } i '$}1 res mY r;iY 3] .' ,
retain strong traditions concern-
ing ancestry and the animal king-
dom, curses drawn from these
areas are especially meaningful.
A ;Chinese who is called a son
of a turtle is greatly insulted, be-
cause of a folk belief that the
turtle commits incest.
. GERMANS are little more im-
aginative about their swearing
than Americans, but they do hold
the advantage of a gutteral lan-
guage that sounds effective,
whether : the words are nasty or
not. Furthermore, many Germans
have a favorite habit or tying to-
gether several wards Into, one long
ringing epithet.
sakrament" is actually about as
strong as "jumpingjeeperseauli-
f lowers tr ingbeansdirtydarnpigs-
eyehorsedung," but it sounds much
worse in German.
Teenage slang comes as near as
anything to preserving this coun-
try's tie with the art of profanity.
American teenagers juggle words
around in a way that is as con-
-temporary as the latest sputnick.
But slang is not profanity, and
teenagers are no better than the
rest of the nation about swearing.
. How did the sparkle disappear
from swearing? Burges Johnson
proposed in his book The Lost Art
of Profanity that the essence of
good swearing is closely linked
with belief in magic and mystery.
WITH THE RISE of science and
industry, all this magic and
mystery was pooh-poohed out of
profanity, leaving a thin shell of
words without any vim, vigor, and
Psychologically, the power of
profanity is related to ego-involve-
ment. If you can pigeonhole some-
one into a disreputable category,
he immediately senses a blow to
his self-esteem and a threat of
But most people seldom, if ever,
take our skeletal vocabulary of
cussing very seriously. Indiscrimi-
nate use has left it so threadbare
that it has lost most of this power
of ego threat.
Well, now that we all agree that
the state of profanity is penny.
poor, what can we do about it?
One thing is certain. we can't
(Concluded on Tage 11)

IN A WORLD where the .domi-
niating weights upon men's
thoughts now find measure in such
chilling phrases as "nuclear um-
brella of terror," "massive
retaliation" and "complete anni-
hilation," it has become almost
impossible to escape _ a grim
consciousness of the atom's de=
structive capabilities.
Ironically, the "progress" in de-
veloping the atom as a military
weapon has virtually eliminated
war as a realistic instrument of a
nation's foreign policy--at least on
the practical grounds of one side
expecting to survive the conflict
in a substantially superior -posi-
tion. However, despite this, the
efforts towards development and
refinement of the atom's destruc-
tive powers almost completely
overshadow. attempts to harness
the atom for other purposes.
During the five years since;
President Dwight D. Eisenhower's'
Dec. 8, 1953 "Atoms for Peace"
proposal, progress at an inter-
governmental level towards dis-
arming the atom and focusing it
on peaceful tasks has been agon-
izin ly l. zF r energetic at-
necessary to look towards private
and educational institutions.
The most significant continued
effort to develop thie atom for
peacetime use is taking place on
the North Campus of the Uni-
THERE, in a cluster of modern-
istic buildings, is the heart of
the Michigan-Memorial Phoenix
Michael Kraft is editorial
director of T he Daily.

f Project, a project that supports
the world's largest atomic educa-
tional program.
Named for the legendary Egyp-
,tian bird that periodically was
consumed by fire -and then arose
from its own ashes, the Phoenix
Project has developed from a
search in 1948. for "something dif-
ferent" to honor the memory of
the 468 University students and
faculty -members killed in World
War II.
In its 10 years of existence, the
project, supported by private con-
tributions, has fostered atomic re-
search not only in Ann Arbor but
throughout the world.
The seven campus laboratories
for atomic research, including the
one million dollar Ford Nuclear
Reactor, largest at'any educational
institution, facilitates research in
areas ranging from archaeolgy
(pointing to the early existence of
a 2,000 mile long trade route be-
tween American Indian tribes)
and zoology (increasing the under-,
standing of embryonic circulatory
systems in reptiles, birds and
But perhaps equally important
to the research going on now is the
impetus the Phoenix Project gives
to tho long range progress in
utilizing atomic energy.
ALTHOUGH the Phoenix Pro-
3ect, under the direction of
Graduate School Dean Ralph A.
Sawyer, is not a part of the Uni-
versity's education unit, its facili-
ties have made possible the newly
established nuclear engineering de-
partment and the 'teaching of the
only advanced courses outside an
Atomic Energy Commission Labo-

During the past summer, the
Univtrsity conducted for the AEd
and the American Society of En-
gineering Education, the first ad-
vanced training program for f ac
ulty members in reactor design,
theory and operation.
The effects of the Phoenix Pro-
ject reach around the world. Last
spring, the Regents approved crea-
tion of a nuclear engineering pro-
gram and of the 111 students in
the field, 35 of them are from 22
foreign countries.
Prof. Henry Gomberg, depart-
ment chairman and Phoenix Pro-
ject assistant director, points out
that manyof them are connected
with atomic energy commissions or
will teach in their own country and
thus will occupy 'positionsof tech-
Prof.. Gomberg describes work in
harnessing atomic energy as being
in the preliminary stages, and the
students are "participating in de-
velopment of new concepts of uti-
lizing atomic energy." He predicts
that nuclear engineering "will soon
come to occupy a position equal to
and, in some cases, transcending
those of the well established
influence is also apparent in
its unique contract with the Inter-
national Cooperation Administra-
Since 1956, the University has
been directly aiding atomic re-
search abroad, sending advisory
experts to Thailand, Korea, Japan,
Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon,
Turkey, Columbia and Ecuador.
An important part of the
"Atoms for Peace" program, the
University's work, almost . exclu-
(Continued on Next Page)

LAST VIEW -- Taken In Novembea
reactor pool before the Phoenix Proj+
put into operation, the photo shows t.
bers as they are lowered into the pool
uranium fuel rods.
Tools fol
Ten years ago the world was j i
tering experience of World Water II
conclusion by the dropping of the
and Nagasaki.
To the committee of Regents, i
who were seeking an appropriate
versity, the idea of a memorial c
peaceful applications of atomic en4
propriate contrast to the military
with its terrible power.
To many thoughtful scholars i
what paths the University should f,
the study of the peacetime
uses of atomic energy seemed
certain to be both vital and re-
warding. The name "Phoenix
Project," symbolizing the rising
of _ civilization" from the ashes
of war, seemed strikingly
The Phoenix Project was
established by the University's
Board of Regents on May 1,
1948 . Its research activities be-
gan immediately, even before
the financial campaign for its
support had been brought to a
successful conclusion with con-
tributions by friends and alum-
ni of the University totalling
more than seven and one-half
million dollars. The policy of the Phoenix
Project from the beginning
has been to support any worthwhile
of the faculty was interested and w
aspect of the peacetime uses of atc
In the past ten years 160 differ
made and about half of these rese
successful conclusion while the rest
The results have been invarial
some cases they have been striking,
established for the University a let
The Phoenix Project represent;
war achievements of the Universtt
through the years to show the work
be transformed into the tools, of pef

" Generator Light S
Chromed Bell
" Sturmey-Archer
3-speed Gears
" Front and Rear
Caliper Brakes
* Pump, Large Tour
Tool Bag, Tools
* Set of Side Basket
already Installed
" Durable Lock

Accessories worth $10-Alone

ATOMIC LABORATORY - Back in the windowless three story section of the Phoenix Memorial
Laboratory is the Ford Nuclear Reactor with a power rating of one million watts, making it4he most
powerful nuclear reactor owned by a university. The facilities are used by the newly established
nuclear engineering department whose enrollment of 111 includes 35 students from 22 foreign na-
tions. -


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