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Sleuthing Day

Most Sunday afternoons, if we have no other plans, my husband and I have our regular Sleuthing Day.

Over the years, for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mothers Day, etc…I have requested and received quite a library of British murder mystery DVDs. We have Inspector Morse, Inspector Lynley, Foyle’s War, the Midsummer Murders, and anything written by the inimitable Dame Agatha Christie. I’m not sure that my husband is quite the devotee of them that I am, but it’s become a nice tradition to sit in the sun-room, windows all around to nature, fire going in the winter…and watch the inhabitants of British villages dispatch their neighbors in a bloodless and rather civilized fashion.

The cinematography is wonderful. I long to live in one of these villages, carrying my bread and cheese in a basket as I walk home along the lanes from the pretty shops. Actually, I live in the township outside a pretty village now…but, as I told a friend who was once accusing my dog of making garbage-spewing forays into town, if my old dog wanted to go up to the village I’d have to call him a cab. That observation applies to me as well.

There is foul play in these villages but there are never “thrill killings.” There is usually some long simmering resentment or dastardly past deed that provides the motive. These crimes are logical if not defensible….therefore they inspire no angst or fear. Additionally, the murdering British matron does not dress down for the occasion…no torn jeans or grunge…victims are dispatched in a sensible “jumper” and pearls…or, in the case of the homicidal Country Squire, in appropriate evening attire.

And there is no profanity. Even as knives are thrust into bosoms or guns discharged, the viewer is not subjected to the banality of the same old repetitive profanity we see these days in American films.

I like this.

Profanity is so overdone now…so…unoriginal. A lot of these words have become…just…tiresome.

I’m not going to claim I have never been profane myself…but seldom enough that when I have been, it has often become the stunner in the story when anyone retells it. My husband and I have had epic confrontations that have lasted for hours with necessary interim breaks to refresh and regroup…much like Chaucer’s Knight who proclaimed…”I’ll but lie down and bleed awhile, then rise and fight again.”

We are both strong-willed people. A Realtor we once engaged to help us look for a vacation home…told us wearily after several weekends of searching,”I can find you a house. I can find your wife a house. But I don’t think I can find the two of you a house together.”

Some debates have been marathons.

But always without profanity.

It has become commonplace today…even in everyday conversation, even without anger, to swear….but, as I’ve told my offspring, I still think profanity is the refuge of the illiterate and the unoriginal. It’s so hackneyed…the same words so overused. To me it bespeaks a limited vocabulary and a lazy mind. There is always a more appropriate word or phrase or, if insult is the objective, a more piercing put-down, if one only puts out the effort.

Consider that Winston Churchill once said of someone who fell afoul of him..“A modest little person, with much to be modest about.” W. Somerset Maugham described a woman he did not admire this way: “She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer, made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious.” But Heinrich Heine produced one of my all time favorites: “Ordinarily he is insane. But he has lucid moments when he is only stupid.”

The proliferation of profanity is well-suited, I suppose, to this age of fast food and instant messages. A classic retort requires a quick wit, a proficiency with words, and I think, oddly, a framework of a certain sense of decorum. The insults quoted above reflect that at least the insulted received some measure of effort and creativity from the author.

My husband was once considering a Brit for a job here. He flew in for the final interviews. Others had picked him up from the nearest urban airport and driven him here through rolling cornfields to a lovely out-of-the-way restaurant that is among my husband’s favorites. Throughout the dinner he enjoyed perhaps a few too many glasses of wine and then certainly seemed to relax. “I say” he asked sarcastically… eyes rolling upward…”Is this like the Outback of the U.S?”

Wherever he is now, I would like him to know that he may or may not have ever joined the ranks of the gainfully employed, but he is forever ensconced in my repertoire of stories as a creative master of the original quip.

3 Responses

  1. “I still think profanity is the refuge of the illiterate and the unoriginal. It’s so hackneyed…the same words so overused. To me it bespeaks a limited vocabulary and a lazy mind. There is always a more appropriate word or phrase or, if insult is the objective, a more piercing put-down, if one only puts out the effort.”

    No list of wits would be complete without including that glittering master of the bon mot, Oscar Wilde. Here, for example, is the exchange between Wilde and journalist Cottsford Dick shortly after Dick used one of Wilde’s epigrams in his column:

    “You and I ought to call ourselves the agriculturalists,” said Wilde.

    “Why?” asked Dick.

    “Because while I mot, you reap.”

    Perhaps as clever, and ironically in the same vein, was James Whistler’s response to Wilde’s bow to his friend:

    “I wish I had said that,” Wilde said approvingly of one of Whistler’s witticisms.

    “You will, Oscar; you will.”

    • Well, almost perfect, as I’ve never quite figured out how Wilde pulled it off if the exchange with the journalist was, in fact, man to man. On paper, of course, the quip jumps off the page. Must have been context at work, or something peculiar in Wilde’s enunciation (although he was fluent in French) . . .

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