I have a friend who works in the Christian publishing industry. He was recently telling me how conservative it is, and for emphasis he added, “We can’t even print the B-word.” I rolled through a catalogue of words in my head, trying to guess which B-word he might be referring to. There were so many choices. Was it bitch, bastard, balls? Surely any one of those could be the vulgar culprit.
Perhaps there was some other curse word I hadn’t been exposed to yet; some urban street-slang these publishers were on to, one that would soon be infiltrating our suburban high schools, possibly even making its way into the mouths of our church youth.
I remained silent, not wanting to guess the wrong word or expose my lack of street cred regarding the youthful slang the Christian publishers were so down with. God forbid, I certainly didn’t want to show my age. Not hearing a response, my friend volunteered the answer to this trivia question. “The word is ‘breast’,” he said. “‘Breast.’ Can you imagine that?” No, I can’t. What I can imagine, though, is the abrupt and final termination of any misguided notions I had for snagging a book deal within the Christian publishing industry. I pictured myself sitting across the desk from a pastorally editor who is suddenly infuriated upon reading the word “ass” in my manuscript. Enraged and offended, he pulls me up by the ear and briskly marches me through the building, shoving me out the door back onto the cold, harsh streets of Grand Rapids. I never thought of the word ‘breast’ as risqué, really, not when it is used in an appropriate context. I mean we are all adults here, and I bet most readers are either women or married men, which means we either have them or have had them in our sights at one point or another. Why work so hard to pretend the breast is not a functional part of a Christian’s every day lifestyle? Read the Song of Solomon, for goodness sake. It’s not that I am a foul-mouthed libertarian. I have always been fairly conservative when it comes to language. The Christian publishers’ attitude reminded me of my own conservative upbringing, and the taboo that was expressly reserved for any utterance remotely resembling a curse word. I never heard swearing in my home, growing up. Even the words that were quoted during King James bible stories in church and Sunday School — words like “hell” and “ass” (the animal, not the body part) — were strictly verboten.