I swear I’m not swearing

Recently, I sent a text message to a friend letting him know that I would “affirm” the commitment of another friend for the three of us to have coffee at a designated location. The recipient of the text replied to let me know that our mutual friend could either “affirm or swear” the commitment. It was then that I realized I must have inherited Norm Crosby disease from my mother. I knew I meant ‘confirm.’

Norm Crosby was the ‘King of Malaprops.’ A malaprop is “the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, “dance a flamingo” (instead of flamenco).” My mother loved Norm Crosby. I was befuddled by her admiration of him even though she spoke like him – unintentionally.

The texting banter got my brain wandering about why swearing is a sin. Swearing has two different meanings. One meaning is to “make a solemn statement,” while the other definition is to “use offensive language.” Isn’t that a paradox?

Is it any wonder I was confused as an elementary pupil at St. Ann’s Grade School? Even in first grade the nuns would have us children memorizing the catechism.

“Who made you?” “God made me.”

“Who is God.” “God is a supreme bean who made all things.”

Maybe first graders today can understand the description of a being, but back in my time I doubt most of those students in Sister Donald Marie’s first grade class could comprehend. We hadn’t got to “see Spot run,” yet.

We were taught that swearing is a sin. But is it a venial or mortal sin? Venial means “denoting a sin that is not regarded as depriving the soul of divine grace.” A mortal sin is “defined as a grave action that is committed in full knowledge of its gravity and with full consent of the sinners’ will.” The nuns didn’t communicate the specifics very well. For instance, is it a mortal sin to masturbate, but only a venial sin to have sex? There was no chart or wrist band for us to refer to various degrees of sinfulness. We were on our own.

I began first grade at five years old. My mother swore like a sailor. To me, those cuss words she used were better understood than the definitions of mortal and venial sins.

As we moved into the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, we were encouraged to save our pennies for the “Propagation of the Faith.” I didn’t want to sound dumb and ask the nun what the hell propagation meant. And I’ll bet that most of the others had the same thought. I continued to call it the propaganda of the faith and no one corrected me.

The Roman Catholic Church uses big words throughout its liturgy, education, and missions. However, my religious background has taught me the difference between an encyclical[1] and an encyclopedia[2]; a cannon[3] and a canon[4]; and relocation[5] and reconciliation[6]. I’m not so sure my former classmates understand those distinctions, even today.

It was difficult being a Catholic. I may always be a Catholic, even though I do not participate in the sacraments. I can relate to what John Lennon once said about messaging: “People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or antireligion. I’m not. I’m a most religious fellow. I was brought up as a Christian, and I only now understand some of the things that Christ was saying in those parables. Because people got hooked on the teacher and missed the message.”

With my mom, I always got the message, no matter how garbled the sentence was with malapropisms and swearing. She never comprehended the irony of calling us boys “you dirty little no-good sons-of-bitches,” and she “could care less.”

I miss my mom!

[1] a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

[2] a book or set of books giving information on many subjects or on many aspects of one subject and typically arranged alphabetically.

[3] a large, heavy gun usually mounted on a carriage.

[4] a church law or decree.

[5] the action of moving to a new place and establishing one’s home or business there.

[6] the restoration of friendly relations.


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3 Responses to I swear I’m not swearing

  1. Terry Murtaugh says:

    Another great posting, Marty. Your mom was one of a kind…and one of the most dynamic characters ever to bless her fellow residents of Vail, Iowa. Her hot chocolate after sleigh riding was the best! Thanks for the mention of Sister Donald Marie…one of the best Sisters of St. Francis to teach at St. Ann’s. A classy lady…who showed Christian JOY rather than the Do’s and Don’ts we normally heard. Thanks for your great writing.

  2. Robin says:

    Loved it!

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