When I first began working for the Times as a stringer, about 15 years ago, I didn’t need to delete expletives from my speech, let alone e-mails because I just plain didn’t use them. However, after several years of multiple daily phone calls with my section editor, I became so desensitized to the word that I began to use it with regularity.
That came to an abrupt halt when I was out on assignment one day and my mother came to our house to babysit the boys while I was out doing an interview. When I returned home mom told me, “A man called claiming to be from The New York Times. He expects you to call him back. I told him I’d see about that.”
That is all she told me at that time. The following story comes from the aforementioned contrite and swear-free editor who answered my return call. The story requires a moment of background.
This editor habitually called with a greeting that was never, “hello,” but a rapid-fire, no breaths or prisoners bark full of F-bomb adjectives.
Mom and I have almost identical “phone voices” and her hello triggered the floodgates of salty greeting when the editor rang me up that morning.
The editor moaned: "I swore at your mother! How upset is she? What did she say?”
Even now I remember the icy trickle down my spine as he unfolded the story in technicolorful language and detail. We had a “curse jar” in our house, and allowance would be eaten alive by it if you uttered a profanity. Today, in our house, cursing gets you more chores, and if you swear while doing them, the chores multiply like rabbits.