“The Joys of More Than One Language”
© By Jack Bogut
I will never forget the day in Mr. Panuto’s English class when each of us had to stand up and give a five minute extemporaneous speech. For most of us, it was the longest five minutes in life.
When it was Bennie Johnson’s turn, we knew the fuse had been lit on an academic bomb— Bennie couldn’t say two words without swearing. And I don’t mean mild stuff. I mean the real descriptive terminology that could make a drill sergeant blush. It was the way he was brought up on the ranch. His father, his brothers, even his mother (we had been told) talked that way. To him it wasn’t profanity; it was normal every-day speech that conveyed in very few words exactly what he meant.
A blue cloud used to follow Bennie wherever he went like a balloon on a tether. He was profanely articulate beyond belief. And when he stood up in front of the class to speak about his horse, we knew we were in for a treat. We heard the strangled first-part of almost every swear word we had ever heard as he tried in vain to clean up his vocabulary.
Mr. Panuto cleared his throat a lot. He also found something outside the big window extremely interesting. I thought I saw his shoulders shake just a little and his forehead touch the glass a time or two, but it could have been a gathering cough.
It would have been poor form to laugh so, with hands over our mouths and scratching the toes out of our socks, we held it in.
That was a day some of the kids got hernias.