“Zynsmeister, will you fu** the hell off!”
“Jean Shepherd knew all the four-letter words. If he could have used them on the radio,
maybe he would have. But since he couldn’t, he rendered them unnecessary.
His nightly suggestion that laughter is the only real defense against the
shrapnel of life was memorable largely because he shared it in language
and tone quiet enough that his voice could be heard.”
–David Hinckley, New York Daily News
“I wish I could use the real word. There’s a much better word. ” –Jean Shepherd
in his radio story titled “Fourth of July in the Army”regarding
foul language used in the army.
“JEAN SHEPHERD COLORS HIS HUMOR BLUE”
by Howard Thompson, The New York Times, 1/1/1969
“The Jean Shepherd on radio, with his cozy reminisces and somehow charming digressions,
is intimate and beguiling. The fellow strutting back and forth on the Town Hall stage
was a showman and the color scheme was basically blue.”
Jean Shepherd, as noted above, could not use foul language on the air in the 1950s-1970s, although sometimes he wished he could have used an appropriate word. And, live on stage, apparently he did sometimes color his language “blue.”
Shep’s own transcriptions into published print however, are also sometimes at odds with his radio utterances. Research into his few army stories previously in print reveal more than just a general expansion of the story details from how he told them on the radio. What follows are the example plucked from his book A Fistful off Fig Newtons and one from a couple published stories in Playboy. As I don’t want my blog responsible for the dissemination of “blue” language, I expurgate with asterisks–but believe me–the printed words are in those publications to read in all their foul glory. It should be noted that all examples I found were in the quoted dialog of army characters (Who, as Shep has noted, have the very colorful and inventive vocabulary he couldn’t use on the radio.)
From Fig Newton‘s “The Marathon Run of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”
(aka “Troop Train Ernie.”)
“Zynsmeister, will you fu** the hell off.”
“…blow it out your God**** manure chute.”
“…was not bullsh*****.”
“…the poor fu****’ Radar slobs.”
“Blow it out your a**.”
From Playboy, ” Zinsmeister and the Treacherous Eighter From Decatur”
“…them fu****’ radar companies.”
“You puttin’ me on, fu**head?”
“And if you give me horse-sh** names, I’ll really have you snappin’ sh**.”
“FU** YOU, MACK.”
(Note the two spellings of Zinsmeister used in print–I prefer this one)
Although I try not to be judgmental, I admit that, as predominately a radio-listener of Shepherd, I find that this printed language makes me cringe. Yet, admittedly, that’s the way soldiers express themselves and Shepherd, where he could, wanted to be truthful to real life. But that’s not the way I want my Shep.
I’d conceived this essay a while back, but I’ve posted it here and now because someone noted my little tribute to Shep’s propensity to using foul language in printed transcriptions in connection with army talk. In my Shep’s Army, in the story “Fourth of July in the Army,” my original hand-written transcription of Shep’s words at one point (page 79 in the book) reads, “I wish I could use the real word. There’s a much better word.” As I keyboarded my manuscript, I thought, “Shepherd used the “real words” when he transcribed into print (In Fig Newtons and in Playboy)–why don’t I, as a tribute, using the word I’m sure he’d wanted to use, this one time, do as he did in print?” In the context of what he said on the air at this point in the story, for me the obvious word, which one can read unexpurgated in Shep’s Army, is “Bullsh**.” (No, Dave Abramson, no other “cuss words,” and no “updating” of Shep’s eternal words appear in Shep’s Army.) I hope I haven’t offended too many readers with my temerity in giving Shep what he always wanted when he could get it in print–not expurgated-into-a- nicety, but REALITY!