Most of the time words represent work. You know, that paper or report you have to write — or even a column for the newspaper (though I hardly call that work!).

But on the other side of the coin, words can make us smile by showing their slightly spicy side, which is what we’re going to look at today, beginning with limericks.

Popularized by English author and illustrator Edward Lear (1812-88), limericks are short poems that are nonsensical or even obscene. Since this is a family newspaper, I’ll forgo recounting the one about the fellow who lived on an island off the coast of Massachusetts and instead go with a G-rated one:

There was an old man of Hong Kong

Who never did anything wrong.

He lay on his back

With his head in a sack

That innocuous old man of Hong Kong.

Another often humorist twist is provided by the Freudian slip, a good example being, “When you say one thing and mean your mother.” (The term “Freudian slip” was first used in 1941 and has come to mean a misstatement that reveals what the speaker was really thinking as opposed to the statement they intended to make.) It’s also known as a parapraxis.

The next time Sarge calls Beetle Bailey a “@!#$%*&,” you’ll know that that string of symbols is called a grawlix, a term originated by the comic strip’s creator, Mort Walker. Interestingly, a recent study found that fluency in taboo words is correlated with having a larger vocabulary in general. Maybe Sarge is smarter than we realize. (A recent documentary on Boston baseball great Ted Williams said that, when angered, the Splendid Splinter could string together eight or nine expletives without using the same one twice. Imagine the extent of his vocabulary.)

A final thought on spicy language is offered by none other than legendary writer/director/actor Mel Brooks, who defended the use of vulgarity to critic Josh Mankiewicz on CBS Sunday Morning. “I think (cursing) is purposeful. It has grit. It has truth. Truth and grit. And you can’t shower people with truth and grit if you’re gonna be careful about stepping out of the lines. You gotta step outside of the lines, and I think the political correctness is too, I’m sorry to say it, too politically correct.”


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