An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

With my schedule based on a university calendar and a son in a year round middle school, our family is prone to taking vacations at odd times of the year.

So here we are, in the middle of December, in a nearly deserted oceanfront resort in Virginia Beach. From our window, we can look down on the four-mile-long boardwalk (made of concrete) which is transformed each Christmas season into what must be the world’s straightest light show. At $10 per vehicle, cars are allowed onto the boardwalk each night, where they creep along with their headlights off while admiring hundreds of displays installed both on the beach and on the grounds of the hotels that line Atlantic Avenue.

I was more impressed by a series of signs that line the street. Virginia Beach works hard to promote a more family-friendly atmosphere than places like, say, Myrtle Beach, where strip clubs compete for attention with all-you-can-eat seafood buffets. The town has a list of rules designed to keep things clean, including warnings against clothing that’s too revealing, public sex, and other potentially offensive behaviors.

At the top of the list, though it’s probably unconstitutional, is a rule against foul language — and every block is marked by a “no cussing” sign: a familiar red circle with a diagonal line across it, marking out a string of zingbats and exclamation marks designed to indicate those ugly words that all of us know and too many of us use.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to George Carlin’s famous routine about the seven words you can’t say on television, but I’m sure it’s out of date: several words that used to be verboten are now quite common, even during the “family hours” of prime time.

I’ve never liked the sound of cussing: what sounds cool to some just sounds cheap to me, and indicates an impoverished vocabulary or a lack of imagination in speaking. Though a recent study suggests that shouting an expletive when you hit your thumb with a hammer might reduce the pain, that’s a special case. My problem is with people who cuss constantly, apparently intending to offend. Movies, music, and obscenity-laced “comedy” pollute the airwaves, infecting impressionable minds and spreading the profanity plague. I quit pulling for Tiger Woods long before his sexual philandering came to light: every bad shot was accompanied by obscene outbursts that didn’t take a lip-reader to recognize.

There are bigger things to worry about than potty-mouth, I know. Still, it does my heart good to visit a town that believes verbal civility is a noble trait.

I hope the gift stores carry magnetized versions of those signs . . .

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