You Can’t Say That in Shul

Did you know that there are swear words in the Bible? True story! In Parashat Ki Tavo when God is warning the people about what will befall them he uses a word that’s considered so foul we’re not allowed to say it out loud. The person reading the aliyah is supposed to read it as a completely different word, which is slightly less foul. You can look this up (Deut 28:27, Samuel I 5:6, 9, 12) if you’re in the mood for something yucky. I looked up the real word, and apparently it means tumors in the anus or vulva. In contrast, the word we say instead is often translated as hemorrhoids, or in the words of the Brown Driver Briggs “straining at stool.” Definitely yuck.
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I bring this up in reference to Vice President Joe Biden’s use of the F word yesterday, and the scrambling of various news sources to report on it without using the word itself. Here’s a roundup courtesy of Wait Wait Don’t Blog Me:

The New York Times: “Mr. President, this is a big … deal,” [Biden] said, adding an adjective between big and deal, that begins with ‘f.’
FOX News: “This is a big f—ing deal,” he informed the president, without shorthanding the adjective in the sentence.
The Los Angeles Times: Headline: Vice President Joe Biden embraces health care bill signing with profane term
Newsday “This is a — big deal,” he apparently told Obama while shaking his hand. And where you see — in the quote above, imagine a word that starts with the letter F.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution: Biden then embraced the president and said in his ear — loud enough for the mikes to pick up — “This is a big [expletive] deal.” And he didn’t say Fargo.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just pick like a code word? People use fudge pretty frequently, right? Or how about something really off-the-wall, like penguin, or sassafrass. “This is a big sassafrass deal.” It works, right? Or they could just go with the Jewish model, and take a similar but less gross idea. “This is a big heavy petting deal” just doesn’t work as well, though.

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