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Bruce Andriatch: Welcome to the era of profanity; four-letter words encouraged

For as far back as I can remember, a quiet war has been raging.

On one side were the profane, the people who never met a curse they couldn't work into a conversation, the people who never even considered putting dashes in the three places where letters were supposed to be in four-letter words.

On the other were the genteel, those for whom the term "inappropriate" is both a favorite word and a frequent warning, who cringe even at euphemisms for anatomically correct terms, who see "*&!@!$# in a comic book and say "Was that ampersand really necessary?"

I'm here to say that the war is over. And the potty mouths have won.

The end was clearly at hand last year when audio was released of the future president describing in some detail his theories on how he likes to demonstrate affection for women, followed by the New York Times choosing to publish his exact words from that recording, including his use of a word that in an earlier era was enough to win a film an R rating.

But the surrender to decorum was officially signed last month when New York's own Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said during a speech: “If we are not helping people, we should go the fork home,” which is almost an exact quote, except for two of the four letters in "fork."

That's right: a U.S. senator used the Big Kahuna of curses in public when she knew people were listening. Actually, she did it twice. It was a real "WT(insert letter here)?" moment for a lot of people.

But those people have not been paying attention. A cultural shift — I said SHIFT — has happened that is impossible to ignore.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis published an article last week about how companies are struggling to deal with the profanity that has become commonplace in the workplace.

"… In offices, hallways, conference rooms and cubicles, people are dropping the F-word into daily banter with no more ill will than lobbing a pencil. Mostly, this is driven by young people who've grown up hearing it in movies, music and cable TV and reading it on social media. They don't consider it a BFD to say it, and are surprised when others do."

(I apologize for all the near-swears and acronyms in that last paragraph.)

It's easy to blame social media and the often colorful nature of the give and take between users who disagree with each other. Also fair is noting that when your computer is your TV screen, there no longer is any distinction between what you might see at 8 p.m. on the boob tube or at 8 a.m. on YouTube.

But this issue's evolution predates the technological revolution. In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon began airing public service announcements that included the previously unspoken lesser f-word that has come to be synonymous with flatulence. (I remember that moment the way some people remember where they were when the U.S. beat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics.)

A little later, basic cable and even broadcast television decided it was occasionally OK to use a well-known, two-syllable term for bovine excrement, without bleeping out either syllable.

We once went to great lengths to be clever when it came to swearing. There was a goofy old song re-released in the '70s called "Shaving Cream" whose lyrics hilariously played on society's fears of hearing a different word that started with the same sound.

On the TV show "The Office," when the character Dwight Schrute was angered by something, he famously and simply declared "F."

Shoot, it wasn't so long ago that hands were wrung over whether it was OK to use the word "suck" in its semi-popular colloquial form or that when describing the act of voiding one's bladder it was OK to use the 16th letter of the alphabet, with two "e"s added — for extra emphasis, I guess.

How quaint those times now seem to be.

But how we went from comedian George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" — two of which you are likely to hear on an episode of "Family Feud" and a third of which is sort of in the title of a show with Eugene Levy on the Pop network that also has the word "Creek" in it — to the current era is somewhat beside the point.

What matters is that the people have spoken and they have sworn their allegiance to swearing. The foul language battle belongs to history now.

As William Tecumseh Sherman said: War is heck, which is almost an exact quote.

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