Joe Scarborough can get away with it, but salty language in public can cost you

By now, you may have heard that yesterday morning, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough accidentally used the F-word on the air. He was just talking, and threw out an expression that involved the word, and he didn't even realize he had used the word until about 30 seconds later, when it was pointed out to him, and then, of course, he apologized profusely.

The incident occurred on his program Morning Joe, and I'm guessing a few members of his audience, simply out of surprise, spit out their coffee when they heard the F-bomb drop. Not that anyone over the age of 18 years old hasn't heard the word -- or, okay, 13 years old -- or maybe every 10-year-old? Actually, I remember being in second grade when I first heard it with any regularity. Some kid named Marcus would run around practically chanting the word before school, during recess and after school -- whenever teachers were out of earshot.

So most of us have heard the word a lot. That doesn't mean we want to hear it, of course. And, in fact, depending on your luck, if you do use the word in public, it can cost you big-time. Or if you play your cards right, like going into rap music, you may just earn money. So just to help everyone out, here are a few of the do's and don'ts of cursing in public.

Don't call a judge a word that has to do with part of the anatomy that's on your butt. Actually, don't call a judge any curse word, in case anybody's confused. Just don't do it. Exhibit A, which happens to be the letter that the offending word began with: Sarah Muller. Earlier this year, she was hoping to get out of jury duty and apparently after being told that she couldn't be excused, she called the judge the offending word. She was sentenced to three days in jail and ordered to pay more than $200 in court costs and fines.

Don't curse on a public bus--especially if it's a school bus--and especially if you're the driver. Even though at least one columnist has implied that if anybody's going to curse, surely a school bus driver has the right to curse. But the judge who fined the York, Pennsylvania bus driver, John Rineholt, didn't quite see it that way. The fine? $349.81. (I'd love to know where that 81 cents comes from.)

Do feel free to curse at your toilet. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, Dawn Herb last year released some prose involving the F-word and an off-duty police officer overheard her. She was in her home, however; the police officer, you see, was her neighbor. She also had a pretty good excuse for her toilet talk. Her toilet, in fact, was overflowing all over the bathroom floor. But just several weeks ago, a judge found her not guilty of soiling the eardrums of an unwitting public, since she was, after all, in her home, and there's something about the matter of free speech. Anyway, the city of Scranton settled the lawsuit with Ms. Herb. For her troubles and as a result of her cursing, she received $28,000.

And so I know the next time that my kids aren't around, I'm going to shout at my dishwasher, which needs replacing, and when I yell, I plan to use a lot of salty language. Plus, I'm leaving all of the windows wide open. Maybe I'll get lucky.

Geoff Williams is a full-time freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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