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Local radio is alive with it.

Bills coach Marv Levy is well-known for hurling it at refs.

Jim Kelly let a rare one slip last week, and it had to be bleeped over on the news.

Buffalo lawyer Robert Murphy hurled it at mob snitch Freddy Saia during cross-examination.

And former Assistant District Attorney Anne Adams admits that even though she has left the crime world of tough-talking cops and lawyers, she still has a hard time communicating without it.

What is it?

Cursing. Being profane. Turning the air blue.


At home, at school, in the malls and on the playgrounds, it has become epidemic.

And not everyone is so @#$%! sorry about it, either.

103.3 The Edge morning co-host Tom Ragan -- who refers to those he loathes as either "miserable," "rat" or "pathetic" bastards -- says his language is a time-honored, family tradition.

"In my family, 'God d--- it' was a term of endearment. We were very specific about (our curses): 'rat bastard' was someone who was just a minor annoyance. Pathetic bastard would be someone you'd hate but feel sorry for, like Bob Dole. Miserable bastard was the worst. No redeeming qualities at all."

Ms. Adams cheerfully admits:

"I am the worst swearer. You know how I know? Every Lent I give it up, and I just feel these lapses in my conversation. I just become inarticulate. I substitute meaningless words for what I really feel."

Her husband, Alan Spiegel, an English professor at the University at Buffalo, "swears like a trucker," too, she confides.

Attorney Murphy is similarly unapologetic. When a reporter asks if Murphy, in fact, called mob snitch Freddy Saia a "f---ing worm" during a recent hearing about alleged mob activity within Laborers Local 210, Murphy pauses dramatically.

"F---ing rat," he says finally.

Get it right, please.

But even if you can't -- even if you don't like to use or hear profanity -- you're @#$%! out of luck. For you're bombarded with it everywhere.

Switch on the tube? Madonna uses it a memorable 13 times on David Letterman. And characters of "NYPD Blue" lovingly refer to each other as a------.

Flip open a magazine? Roseanne tells the New Yorker how much she loves to curse, the F-word being her particular favorite, because "it's a verb, a noun, everything, and it's just infused with intense feeling and passion."

Pop a movie in the VCR? Please. Even Disney's "The Journey of Natty Gann" contains several spicy words, including "bastard."

Nowhere has this trend toward blue language become more noticeable than in children, who can regularly be heard spewing forth obscenities.

A mother stands in the video aisle of the Wegmans on McKinley Parkway, trying to coax her son into renting an animated feature about a spirited mouse.

"No," says the grade-school-age child. "Why?," she asks. "Because it's s----y," he replies.

Schools have erupted with cursing -- "It's pathetic here, don't quote me," said one high school principal -- though not all teachers and administrators can catch it happening.

Karen Karmazan, the new principal of Windermere Elementary School in Amherst, says kids can be crafty in creating an image of verbal purity.

"They instinctively discern what's appropriate and what's not," she says. "They know when to turn it on and turn it off."

In fact, in nine years of fifth-grade teaching in Clarence, she recalls disciplining just one boy, who shot a "F--- you!" to a student, even after having been warned once for the same offense.

This is not to say that she believes kids at Windermere don't swear, she assures. Only that she hasn't heard them, so far.

And therein lie many of our conflicted beliefs about how alarmed we should be.

On one side, there are those who believe that swearing is not scarily rampant, but merely a linguistically handy tool to have around the house these days.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently quoted a University of Florida researcher, Kristy Beers, explaining to a conference that while "we have all been told, all our lives, that swearing is inappropriate, there are actually times when it may be appropriate."

Like when?

Like in social conversation, to make a point with friends, reduce the tension of the moment (surely not to create it, of course) or to show solidarity. In other words: I can swear with you guys, too.

"It blows off steam. I mean, you feel better, physically, when you swear," said a Williamsville woman who oversees a half-dozen employees in a hectic home-improvement business.

"I mean, when you say, 'I don't give a f--- who told you to do that, I'm telling you not to,' it feels like you're taking control. Like you can't be pushed around."

But on the other side, there are those who believe rampant swearing is a symptom of a society spiraling downward into decay.

"No matter where I go -- bars, streets, parties, anywhere -- f--- and s--- account for about one-third of conversation that I hear," says Timothy Jay, author of "Cursing in America" and "What to Do When Your Students Talk Dirty" (John Benjamins Publishing).

"It is part of the overall erosion in civility in this country. Go to a food court. Watch people eat. They are farm animals. They leave trash. Listen to them talk. They talk trash."

How did it become so acceptable?

Jay, a psychology professor at North Adams State College in Massachusetts, points a finger -- not that one -- at the entertainment industry.

"There is fierce competition between the rental industry, cable, shock radio, theaters. So each puts out an increasingly explicit product, hoping to grab you."

Eventually, he says somewhat sadly, using expletives, "putting down women by using their sexuality, putting down men by calling them female body-part names," becomes part of society's lexicon.

And that leads to a swift decline in society as a whole.

Vic Baker, longtime producer of the 6 p.m. news on WIVB-Channel 4, thinks it has already happened.

There is more swearing in newsrooms today than before, says the veteran newsman, "and I've also seen a decline in the general level of writing. Good communication requires disciplined thinking -- and swearing is not disciplined thinking."

Yet use of profanity -- particularly the F-word -- remains common, says Baker.

"I'm not defending it," he says. And he's not championing cursing as a tool of the intelligent: "To me, cursing takes up all the mental duress of a belch."

However, Baker notes, he does understand its popularity. Somewhat.

Newsrooms, he says, are like political backrooms, police precincts, crime scenes and other places where machismo reigns and profanity is taken to a new level:

"There is a high stress factor, limitations of time, little opportunity for niceties, and a fierce need to get your point across as plainly as possible."

What troubles many, however, is that one should be able to escape such "swear-zones" by simply avoiding them, and hanging out elsewhere.

A mall. A sporting event. A park. A movie. Work, even.

Yeah. Right.

To sit in the food court at the Walden Galleria, particularly on a weekend night, is to be surrounded by youths, sitting or milling about, greeting each other jovially with curses.

"M-----f-----s, where were you? We waited an hour! F-----' movie's started," one young woman, sporting a ring through her lower lip, shouted to three boys as they approached her and her friends.

Sporting events? Safe for tender ears?

In response to a Buffalo News query last fall on whether Rich Stadium was a place one could expect to take a child and not hear vulgarity, some 75 people responded.

The overwhelming consensus was that Rich Stadium is a nice place if you're a glutton for punishment.

"During one game, the season ticket holder behind me (yelled at) the referee to perform an unnatural act upon him. How do you explain this to a 5-year-old boy?" complained a young Springville mother, who had made the 25-mile trek to Orchard Park only to leave, disgusted. She never went to another game.

A park? Even there, you take your chances.

Robin Hall, 30, a South Towns mother of three, took her children to play on the large wooden jungle gym at East Aurora's Hamlin Park last summer, and was "outraged" when a group of teens gathered on a picnic table and began to tease each other at the top of their lungs.

"It was mostly boys, but the girls were laughing like it was just the funniest stuff they'd ever heard," she says.

When one young man shouted out to another to perform a certain biological act upon himself, Mrs. Hall lost it. She marched over and, as the table of kids fell silent, launched into a tirade.

Her only problem?

"The first thing out of my mouth is: "What the hell are you thinking? What the !@#$% is wrong with you?"

She plowed ahead with an anti-swearing lecture that left her shaking with anger. "I was just crazy over this idea that they thought they could swear in front of my kids. But I'm sure (the fact that) I swore, too, lessened the impact."

What about escaping profanity at the movie house? Once upon a time, maybe.

In 1930, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association was so attuned to the genteel nature of the nation, it banned words like hell, damn, gawd, goose, cripes, fanny, lousy, madam, pansy, chippie and even the raspberry sound. Even the expression "Aw, hold your hat" was deemed too risque.

Even through the 1940s and 1950s, Jay notes, there was but a single swear word in films -- the use of "hell" in "Rebel Without a Cause."

After that, however, things loosened, gave way, and exploded. "Easy Rider" and "The Graduate" in the '60s contained a dozen curses, and "Blazing Saddles," in the '70s, carried a then-remarkable 105.

The F-word-laden "Scarface" in 1983 contained one shy of 300 vulgarities. And Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," in 1990, topped the swearing charts with an astronomical 400 curses.

And as for finding relief from vulgarities at work?

That may be the one place where adults, temporarily relieved of the self-imposed manners of the home, feel most free to turn the air blue.

"I can say 'F---!' when I make a mistake here, or slam down the phone, and not worry that my daughters or her little friends are coming around the corner for a snack, going, 'Oooh, what'd she say?!' " laughed a 40-year-old hair-salon and day-spa worker in Amherst.

"My husband gets mad if I swear at home, so I really let loose here," she says, letting her long nails click out a rhythm on her glass-topped nail-painting station, "and then I go home feeling all better."

She beams sassily.

Not every office is so tolerant.

Last summer the National Association of Securities Dealers sent a notice to its 5,000 members warning that the use of "profane or obscene language" among traders could lead to strict penalties.

The move was strictly in line with what the Federal Trade Commission had demanded of the growing telemarketing industry, in 1994:

A ban on any techniques that use "threats, intimidation, profane or obscene language" by those who sell things over the phone.

"That's such horse----," guffaws one telemarketer, 33, who calls across the nation from his Kenmore office, trying to get people to consolidate their credit debts via one massive loan from his firm.

"I laughed and called this guy a f------ a------ yesterday for not taking this (offer), which for him was a steal," he says.

Some firms have banned profane or obscene language not to protect its customers, but to protect the firm itself.

All an employee need prove, in a harassment lawsuit, is that a hostile work environment was allowed to exist at his or her place of work.

"And there is case law that shows a hostile work environment can be created with vulgarity," explains Anne Simet, a Buffalo attorney who specializes in labor and employment issues.

Accordingly, any smart, current sexual-harassment company policy will most likely state that employees must avoid not only religious, national origin and sexual references, but also "curses, vulgarities or epithets," she adds.

"All forward-thinking employers have probably already done this by now."

Or, at least, they've tried.

In October 1994, Raritan Burrough, N.J., banned the use of obscenities in public. Mayor Anthony DeCicco said it was a response to foul-mouthed young people who hung out on the streets.

"I served in the Marine Corps for four years. We used some obscenities," he observed ruefully. "But we sure didn't say them out on streets, in malls, in front of stores. It's shocking."

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