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Speak No Evil, or From Here to Profanity

On the outside, Craig Browning seems like a normal person, perhaps much like you or me. He has many friends, plays bass in a punk-rock band called Slugger, holds down a steady job in construction and has a good, firm handshake.

But Craig Browning is different from you and me.
He is the Boy Who Doesn't Swear.
He won't cuss, he won't say bad words, use racial epithets or scream obscenities at a TV set or snarled traffic. He even has a hard time calling a female dog a "bitch."

"I do have a tough time rolling that one out," he admits. "It just doesn't feel right to me."

Yet the shaved-dome, goateed Browning is no prude, and he certainly doesn't keep his mouth clean for religious reasons--"I drink, I fight, I sin. I'm full of sin." Nor is his verbal cleanliness the result of some deep-seated psychological need to prove himself morally better than everybody else. At least he says it isn't.

"No, I don't think so. I totally don't care if anyone else cusses. For me, it's so much a part of my everyday life now I don't even think about it."

God knows, I tried to get Browning to slip one out. I plied him with drink, I made lascivious comments about attractive women, I cracked jokes, opened up manly topics of conversation--sports, true crime, politics--that would seem to necessitate an off-color response.

He laughed, he drank, he got serious, he became concerned. But he did not swear. And when an hourglass fox of truly boss dimensions walked by, some might say a really great piece of ass, all he did was smile and say, "Lookin' good!"

The Boy Who Doesn't Swear was born and raised in Bucksport, Maine, 27 years ago. Bucksport, population 4,000, is a bastion of swearing.

"It's an industrial river town with one of the largest paer mills in the world," says Browning. "The best cussers I've ever heard are river-town New England people. I worked in the paper mill for four summers. Once I had a two-ton roll of paper roll across my foot. No swearing at all. I was wearing a steel-toed boot, but still there were lots of 'Ows' and 'Oh, mans' and limping around."

Browning says he comes from a family of swearers.
"My mom doesn't spill cuss words all the time, but she definitely does cuss. Once she offered me 50 bucks to cuss, but I couldn't do it. My grandparents cussed, and my brothers and sisters have been cussing since the day they were born. My dad is big-time, a big-time cuss pro."

The dad of the Boy Who Doesn't Swear played in a number of Bucksport rock bands--Mantis, Midnight Express, the Torquays--that rehearsed in the family basement, exposing the young Browning to a particularly fertile cussing situation.

"They were all heavy cussers," recalls Browning cheerfully. "That was probably the first early memory I have of hearing people cuss all the time. I was just like, 'Wow. They sure do cuss a lot.' It was so weird to hear people cuss that much I was like, 'Oh, I'm not going to do that.'"

He came to this pivotal realization early in life.
"I was probably about 7 or 8, but I can't remember a time when I cussed frequently. Just at the point where I would pick that up in my vocabulary, I skipped that whole process."

I decided to check out his story. I called his mom, Linda, who did not swear at any time during our conversation.

"He's not kidding," she told me. "I don't know how it started. Recently I was talking about it to him, and I said something about fighting the urge to swear. That's the thing--he's never had the urge. It's just not something that he's moved to do when he's angry. It's just not a response that's in him; I don't know why. It is a strange thing; I don't know if there is anyone else that doesn't swear."

The mom of the Boy Who Doesn't Swear readily admits that her son's lack of profanity is not derived from parental conditioning.

"Nope. I swear, and his father's pretty explosive. And it's certainly not a religious reason; in fact, I'm not sure if he believes in God or not. I don't think it's anything he consciously thought about and decided, 'Oh, I'm not going to do that.'"

What about her alleged offer of 50 bucks if her boy would swear? Linda sighs.

"I'm sure I probably did. That sounds really nice, doesn't it? 'Mother Offers Son 50 Dollars If He'll Swear.'"

What about her three other kids?
"They all swear," she says. "I'm so proud."

While the Boy Who Doesn't Swear may have high verbal principles, he's still human. He's gotta say something when he stubs his toe.

"I use a lot of 'darns' and 'dangs,'" he reveals.
What about "golldarnit"?
"I've used that. Most people who don't cuss, when they're extremely mad, they'll allow themselves to cuss because they think that lets people know how mad they are. I reach a point of anger or pain, and I get really calm and just work it out in my head."

Then, of course, there is toilet talk. Where does he draw the line? "There are some classics, I love those: poop, ca-ca, doo-doo. Pee is a good one. I'll say 'I have to go take a pee' a lot. I'll say it in mixed company; I don't care where it comes out. 'Dump' is a good one. Also 'pinch a loaf' and 'drop the kids off at the pool.'"

His rationale is simple.
"These are all funny, and they're not the classic cuss words," says Browning. "There's something creative about them, something artistic about coming up with something that means the same thing but isn't offensive. I stay away from vulgarity."

But what of body parts?
"That's the one area that's most open, because there're so many different words," he clarifies. "You don't need to use the standard ones that everyone considers cuss words. I just stick with medical terms, mostly."

What about "ass"?
Browning blanches.
"I wouldn't use that. 'Butt' is a big one, I like the word 'butt.'"
When it comes to breasts, he's willing to stretch a bit.

"'Boobs' is okay. "Boobs' or 'fun bags.' I heard 'windjammers' once, but that's a New England thing."

And male anatomy must be confronted.
"I usually stick with 'penis,'" Browning offers. "Or 'li'l feller' or 'package.' That's another good one, as in--'she's checking out my package.'"

It seems that in this day and age, when filthy language is practically de rigueur in television, films, magazines, even alternative weeklies, a refined speech pattern would be impressive to the ladies.

Browning hesitates.
"Well, maybe, because it throws in an extra element of class along with my dangerous appearance. I'm great with parents. If I ever have to meet parents, they love me because cuss words never slip out. But with girls, it's not exactly a smooth line--'I don't swear. And I like you.'"

Browning's tale may seem odd, even unbelievable, yet he claims that his avoidance of swearing is rarely noticed.

"It doesn't really register with anyone because I talk so normal, and I look so normal, and I act so normal and I don't tell anyone not to cuss, so they never even notice I don't cuss," he says.

"As long as you don't hit people over the head with it, nobody really notices. Unless you're put in a corner where everyone's cussing, and it comes around to your turn to cuss, and you don't pull it off. Someone will say, 'You don't cuss, do you?' And then the questions will start. They all think they heard me swear. 'You swore the other day!' No, I guarantee you I didn't. Then they'll try and establish when they actually heard me swear, which they can't do. Then it's like, 'What if I punch you?' That's pretty funny.

"They think I'm a priss at first, then someone'll say, 'Oh, I probably shouldn't cuss as much.' Then nobody cusses for about 10 minutes. Once you've taken the dark path, you can't go back. I've never met anyone that doesn't cuss once in a while."

--Gilstrap

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap