Dirty Word Specialists

By Phineas J. Stone

Boston is pretty well locked down as the “dirty water” city due to the rock song by the Standells, but I’d petition the fact that the Hub has claim as the dirty word capital of the East as well.

What is it about Bostonians and dirty words? You won’t catch a southern Californian looping together angry, obscenity laced phrases in casual conversation like we do.

It’s hard to tell, but the lingua franca of this city has long included strings of swears that are used in a way that is nearly artistic, if it weren’t so offensive and crass. Then again, much of the art of the modern day is just that – provocative – so maybe a case for the cadence of the common man could be made as well.

As long as I’ve been around, Boston has had a bad mouth. Despite all the refinement, education and culture in this city, the choice of words is far from the poetic language of the gods. I never really fell into that mode as a Bostonian, mostly due to my father’s penchant for taking out “the belt” or grabbing a tree branch to teach us kids the right and wrong words. Soap was used – a lot. Ironically, during those teaching sessions, there were no shortage of dirty words coming out of his mouth.

But my friends, as a kid and an adult, specialized in getting their point across with words that the priest at the Parish didn’t approve of.

One of the common refrains in Boston is that we don’t waste time, so when it comes to the city’s dirty word specialists, they don’t mess around with Level 2 language. In fact, most Bostonians will go straight for the worst of the lot – the F-bomb.

It used to be a Boy’s Club type of thing, but with the advent of modern gender roles, that’s really disappeared wholesale and such words are now open to both sexes, a testament to equality I suppose. Now, it’s on every street corner on every block of this city if you sit long enough and listen.

You’ll hear it from women in pant suits walking quickly to an appointment – maybe even on the phone talking to their difficult teen-age kids. You’ll also hear it from women smoking cigarettes and half-cocked, yelling obscenities at their boyfriends as they try to “get it together” during the morning hours. Kids talking casually will drop the word three or four times in a conversation, almost as if using it as a dramatic pause. And if you really want to hear how it’s done, drop by Madison Park High School near Roxbury Crossing at school dismissal. I wasn’t even aware such combinations existed until I heard some of the students there mixing old time swears with the newest slang from the streets.

If you happen to score good seats at the Sox game, whether near the home dugout or the away dugout, take your ear plugs because you’ll hear it there too. I had to laugh earlier this season when a father and his son were sitting right behind the dugout and one of the Sox games and, well, we’ll just say it wasn’t family-oriented conversation coming from under the overhang – including some flavorful Spanish-language swears that I happened to understand.

Go by a construction site, and it’s really the only word they say. I was talking with a guy working on one of the new buildings in the Back Bay about the project this summer, and I think there might have been a string of five to seven F-bombs in three sentences. One particular phrase included a back-to-back incantation of the F-word in two slightly different forms.

It was all very casual.

From board rooms to backyards to conglomerations of bums, the F-bomb is the word of choice in Boston, and in an absolutely unapologetic way.

I remember years back when the telephone was more stationery and far more anonymous, my grandmother used to get calls from men who would simply string together horrible, though creative, lists of obscenities and suggestions from the other side of the phone. The things suggested and the words used to suggest them were absolute vulgarity, and there it was coming right into your home on the telephone. Just about anything could be invented and said right in your ear in the most shocking ways by some unknown entity on the other end of the line. That was a new concept.

There was no caller ID back then and these men, known officially as Dirty Word Specialists, were pretty skilled at hanging up before a trace could be completed. So, not much could be done and the operator never had a solution.

My grandmother, as soon as she heard the strings of obscenities, would begin threatening the caller. Her threats usually included telling the Parish priest every word that was said, that somehow God was going to figure out who was calling and punish them for the words used and suggestions being made. She always finished the call by threatening to cancel her phone line, but she never did.

It was quite a thing, but that’s all gone now because there is no more anonymity and phones aren’t planted in the home any longer. Plus, the Internet has far more shocking suggestions at the click of a mouse – using pictures and words.

That backward behavior is long gone, but fresh as the morning breeze are the tirades and rants and general conversations broken up by F-bombs and other colorful phrases in the public square – made all the more worse by cell phone conversations.

It is the way things are in the Old Town, and if you don’t like it, get the Flock of Seagulls outta here!

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