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CARROLL: Our Potty-Mouthed Politicians
David Carroll
David Carroll - photo by Special Photo

Sometimes a child reminds us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going.

Recently at my television station, we were visited by a family with a 10-year-old girl. A “little lady” if you will. She was prim and proper, well dressed, and well spoken.

As she and her family members were making the rounds, a newsroom guy leading the tour made a mistake, and uttered the word, “shoot,” as in “Shoot, I forgot to take you over here.”

The little girl was taken aback. “I heard that,” she said. “You heard what?” said our man. “I heard that word you said,” she replied. Surprised, he said, “All I said was shoot.” She said, “My papaw says swear words sometimes, but I let him know about it!”

As that story was shared around the studio, we were all a bit surprised, and very thankful the young lady had missed out on far more colorful language that is often heard in a TV newsroom.

Growing up, my home was filled with the PG versions of various curse words. It was okay to say shoot, dadgum, son of a gun, dang it, heck fire, and “Oh my gosh.”

In my family’s store, construction workers would occasionally let it rip. If one of them accidentally dropped a bottle of Dr. Pepper on the floor, I can assure you the words that flew out of his mouth were not “Well, shoot!”

My vocabulary was expanded in elementary school. Some of my peers had been exposed to a wider variety of swear words than I had. Of course, in order to hang with the cool crowd, I would have to use them too. That is, until I let one slip at home. “Don’t let your daddy hear you say that!” Message received.

As unusual as our little visitor’s reaction was, it was actually rather refreshing. I found myself wondering if she had any exposure to the television, movie, video game and streaming channels that are prevalent in most homes. Social media sites are packed with clips of toddlers saying naughty words. Parents (and viewers) think it is hilarious to hear a 2-year-old swear like a sailor.

These kids come by it naturally. They repeat what they hear from their parents and grandparents, and from the TV screens and I-Pads that are constantly blaring in the background. The off-color language is not just from risque sitcoms and reality shows. Watch any political channel that masquerades as a news network, and within minutes you’re likely to hear a barrage of obscenities and epithets.

It’s strange when you think about it. Politicians who campaign on a platform to revert America to the Mayberry era spew words that Andy and Barney would have frowned upon. Even Gomer Pyle drew the line at “Gol-lee!”

Our current presidential candidates are not exactly setting the best example, but it appears their followers approve. In the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden famously promised to end the “malarkey,” an approved word during my youth, even though I knew it meant something else. More recently, his off-the-record language has become more authentic, as he has been caught on live microphones telling us what he really thinks about Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump, even his recorded use of a vulgar slang word depicting a woman’s private area didn’t offend most of his followers, so he has gradually expanded his off-color comments. Most of his campaign speeches are carried on live TV, and anything goes.

During his presidency, Trump spoke to the National Boy Scout Jamboree, and went so far off the rails that the organization’s chief apologized to Boy Scouts and their parents. Since then, his language has gotten more profane, as his audience members roar their approval.

We’ve come a long way since the days of John Nance Garner, who was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president in the 1930s. He was reported to have described the job of VP as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” We later learned he did not say “spit,” instead using a slang word for another bodily fluid. Perhaps he needed a 10-year-old granddaughter to keep him in line. Maybe we all do.

David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “I Won’t Be Your Escape Goat” is available on his website, You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at