Bill Neinast


The Turner Classic Movie channel was the source of a relaxing evening last Wednesday.  The movie of the night was the 1946 classic, The Best Years of Our Lives.

Channel surfers 50 years old or younger probably would not have stayed on the channel as long as five minutes.  The dialogue was in a foreign language without English subtitles and the youngsters would not have been able to follow the story.

Occasionally something that sounded like English could be heard.  Every third word, however, was not followed by an expletive or description of a normal body function.  For more than two hours, no scatological terms beginning with a “D,” “S,” or “F” was heard.  Who among today’s youngsters could understand such simple, straightforward English?

The English used was not the only quaint feature of the movie.  The women were always fully clothed and wore dresses with hats and gloves when they went shopping.  The men were never seen in a shirt without a collar and most of the time they wore ties and coats.  Also obvious in their absence were baseball or “gimme” caps worn either with the bill in front or in back. 

The single car garages were entered on two strips of concrete with grass medians instead of solid expanses of concrete driveways serving two and three car garages.  One homeowner was even seen mowing his lawn with a small push-type reel mower.

There were also several scenes of military aircraft graveyards.  The movie was made less than two years after the end of WWII and scenes of those hundreds upon hundreds of bombers and fighters parked wing to wing awaiting demolition left a vivid impression of the tremendous service of the Greatest Generation.

The Best Years of Our Lives was viewed in juxtaposition with August: Osage County.  That recent movie was shot in modern English.  Unfortunately, Meryl Streep
and Julia Roberts were cast as what can best be described as potty mouths.  They could not open their mouths without a flood of obscene words.

The worst part of that movie was sitting in an audience with youngsters under 50 years of age who considered the dialogue to be “good old” English.  They have never known any other way of talking with others.  For some reason, each clause has to be emphasized with an expletive.  That is one of the tragedies of the modern American experience.

As mentioned in this column previously, the “worst” words or language I ever heard from my father’s mouth were “dang it” or “doggone.”  With that simple English, he was able to create and run a small business that vaulted him into, and kept him in, the upper class.

I am reminded, also, of a high school football game in Somerville in the mid 1940s.  I played left end for the Somerville Yeguas.  In one interscholastic meet, one of the players said, “damn,” or something similar.  The referee immediately whistled the game to a halt, called the 22 players on the field together, and gave a lecture on how there was no need for “real men” to lace their conversations with profanity.  

Today’s referees probably cannot recognize any words or comments as profane.  If they do, they would not dare take the foul mouthed individual to task.  To do so would risk both his job and reputation. Today, anyone who cannot converse with all those “aids” for emphasis is just another panty waist.

How and when we began to accept this tawdry language, even from the mouths of children, is hard to determine.  Some current movies with a WWII setting indicate that foul language was also the norm during that conflict.  My time in the service indicates that was not the case.

Although I did not enter active duty until the Korean conflict, many of my colleagues were WWII vets.  They used the English of my father, that is a severe “dangit” on rare occasions.

The Best Years of Our Lives was a portrayal of a genteel society.  Today’s August: Osage County is at the opposite side of the scale.  It portrays a coarse society.

Genteel is defined as polite, refined, or respectable.  In the last century, the word was used in such senses as “of good social position,’‘ “having the manners of a well-born person,” or being “well-bred.”

Conversely, coarse is defined as crude or vulgar. 

So here’s the perspective.

Step into any gathering of youngsters today and listen to the conversation.  In a matter of seconds, you will realize that you are in the center of a coarse, crude, or vulgar crowd. In some instances, the females are bigger potty mouths than their male companions. 

Could the difficulty in finding genteel conversations be a reason for routinely watching the first half of the evening TV news being devoted to violent crime?


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