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On Second Thought

Tough habit to break, I swear

By Kevin Paul Dupont
June 5, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It was only a rehearsal — not even, but a quick run-through of potential talking points during a four-way conference call. Four of us were batting around ideas for a TSN hockey segment I taped for TV on Friday, and at least twice during the spirited off-camera conversation, as is too often the case, I swore.

No one seemed to care, and I gave it only a second thought because I can’t say that I’m close pals with the other guys who were on the call. Truth is, I barely know them. One of the guys, the producer, I’ve never met. He and I have conversed a lot lately, but mostly by e-mail, because he works out of Toronto and my location is typically dictated by a small chunk of vulcanized rubber (it’s a noble life, requiring a college degree, spelling skills, a sharp tongue, and the ability to insert AAA batteries into a tiny digital voice recorder).

There is a lot of swearing in hockey, as there is in all sports, amateur and professional. There is also a tremendous amount of swearing in the newspaper business, at least in the sports department, and I suspect swearing is rampant in a lot of other businesses, even in and around the White House.

A frustrated President Obama, in the thick of the BP oil-spill crisis, promised to kick some backside when he found out who was responsible for that disaster. The ol’ First Butt Kicker caught a lot of ears with his swear. Tricky Dick Nixon, though branded with Republican red, was known to have a virulent blue streak.

Swearing just seems to pop up more these days, especially in sports. Rinksides, sidelines, and foul territory are equipped with high-tech audio devices that pick up every sound, including all the four-letter words and the more creative, expansive invectives that roll so easily from the tongues of athletes and coaches.

And, oh my goodness, what the four letters “HDTV’’ have done for beaming all the curse words direct to our family rooms. Even if we can’t hear the swearing, we usually can read it on the miscreant’s lips.

Who in your family is best at lip reading the vowels, consonants, and cusses? When I see pitchers and catchers cover their mouths with their gloves in those on-field chats, I know they’re swearing up a storm. There is no fooling a member of the four-lettered brotherhood.

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau became the profanity poster boy for pro sports during the HBO series “24/7,’’ a behind-the-scenes look at hockey leading up to the NHL’s Jan. 1 outdoor Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins.

It became so comical, with Boudreau dropping so many F-bombs in so many situations, and in so many varying inflected forms, that his swearing at times became more entertaining and captivating than the behind-the-scenes hockey.

Everyone who watched the HBO series talked about it. In one Boudreau blue-laced oratory, which he delivered from the center of the dressing room, he swore 17 times, including 15 F-bombs, F-bombers, or F-bombings in just over a minute.

Funny in itself, but all the more hilarious because the players remained nearly pin-drop silent and barely paid attention to the flippin’-mad coach, who was spittin’ and spinnin’ swears in the middle of the room.

I’d provide the YouTube link here, but this is a family newspaper, and I don’t need one day to have a high schooler come up to me and say, “Hey, thanks, if it hadn’t been for you, I would have made it all the way to third grade without swearing!’’

Now, I swear, but I’m no Bruce Boudreau. I know too well what it is to be afflicted with the four-letter-word virus. It’s very difficult to shake. I’m Catholic, and each year when Lent rolls around, I try to “give up’’ something for the six weeks leading to Easter. Over the decades, I’ve given up such things as chocolate, all desserts, alcohol, one year even bread and butter.

No problem. Cold turkey. Most years I’ve scored 100 percent, with no more than two or three slips in my worst years.

This year, convinced it was time to clean up my language, I swore off swearing for Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday each year. It was all of 18 minutes after waking up that Wednesday morning that I broke my vow. The sad truth is, for the full six weeks, I couldn’t go more than 48 hours without swearing. Total fail.

How’s that for behavior modification? It’s harder to stop swearing than it is to give up chocolate cream pie, a cinnamon roll, or even a chilled Maker’s Mark Manhattan. And . . . I . . . bleepin’ . . . know.

Swearing is not going to stop. We all know it. In fact, it’s getting worse, if what I hear on the streets, in arenas, on game broadcasts, sports talk radio, and what I read in the e-mail directed to the address posted below is a true indication.

Those of us in the business of writing opinion often receive vulgar responses, not all of which contain swears. But most of the worst are laced with profanity, and some of the most vulgar received here, presumably from men, have contained particularly cruel and crass depictions of women, arriving after I’ve praised a female athlete or simply mentioned my mother as part of a childhood recollection.

Hey, not a business for the thin-skinned, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable, sad, even shockingly disgusting at times.

For my own little acre of the sports world, I’m going to keep trying to clean up my language a little. Newspaper men and women generally believe that swearing relieves stress, and there is plenty of that in a deadline business.

Reporting for on-line posting doesn’t have the same rigid deadline — the threat of the presses rolling with blank space for that Red Sox game story that was never filed — but it has increased the stress. No longer do reporters try to win the day, saving our scoops or unique content for the morning paper. Now it’s all about winning the minute, posting stories on the Internet ahead of the competition, if only by a couple of minutes.

Get ahead of the curve with a story these days, and it’s all but guaranteed that the competition will post a like story within minutes, at most an hour or two. Unlike the old print-only days, few readers ever know, or recall, or even care, who was first to break a story. No credit for your scoop, no “I had it first!’’ moment.

Now there’s something worth swearing about. Grrrrrrrr.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com.