Growing up, I was exposed occasionally to the Texas state anthem. I know the tune but can recall only the first verse — I don’t think I ever learned all the lyrics: “Texas, my Texas, all hail the mighty state!” Throughout most of my youth I thought we were singing “aw hell the mighty state!” In my family “hell” was a cuss word, a bad place men told other men to go to, and to which the preacher said self-abuse led. I may have been scandalized at first, but soon thought no more about it, presuming it worked somehow in the song.
Nowadays, for no earthly reason, I sing the state anthem occasionally in my head, but just repeating the one verse I know. For the wind-up, or close-out — whatever it’s called in a song — I sing “All hail, all hail, all hail, aw hell! All hail the mighty state!” It gives me a wry sense of satisfaction to treat the anthem with a soupçon of disdain, a pleasure similar to that furnished by working a French word into one’s discourse: Saucy, a little naughty, like my ten-year-old self saying “Hell!” out of the hearing of adults.
I’m fairly sure I recall an essay by Larry McMurtry, a fellow Texan, about taboo language and its close cousin, euphemism, in his youthful experience. One instance was the use in childish lingo of “grunt” to designate a specific call of nature. Presumably it was a kind of onomatopoeia deriving from effortful vocals emanating from the privy. I, too, knew this usage from summers spent with my grandparents: “Grandmother, I have to grunt.”
The other instance was McMurtry’s tale of blurting out, as an adolescent at the family dinner table, for no reason he could fathom, “Please pass the fucking butter.” The opprobrium he incurred was severe. He did not dine that evening. His experience and mine diverge in that respect. I can’t recall when the F-word first crossed my lips, but I was probably a grown, immature man when it did.
(c) 2018. JMN.