When I was about nine or ten years old I was playing scrabble with my parents and my grandmother when I made this word. It made the other three catch their breath and a tense silence settled over them. I waited for my grandmother to add the score (it was a pretty modest one) to my total, and then move on. But they didn't.
My grandmother looked at me with a fierce look on her face.
'What does that word mean, Ted?'
'Oh that? It means silly person. I get called it all the time at school.'
The other three exchanged looks; it was as though they didn't believe me.
'You can take back the C, the U and N and build something else.'
So I put them on my rack and began to move the letters around, slightly annoyed at this adult ruling. It wasn't easy making words for me at that stage, especially with all these darned U letters dominating the rack. Mind you, I did have an F. I had just lined two of my previous letters next to it when my grandmother peered over the rack and spotted the nascent word under construction.
She immediately closed the board sending all the letters cascading into a heap in the middle.
'I won't play scrabble with boys who make rude words, she announced, as she flounced off into the kitchen.'
Therein lies the problem.
Those kids are using these words all the time, even if they are not sure what they mean. And it's not new. That incident happened in 1960 or thereabouts.
When I was teaching students creative writing, one way to enthuse them to do something as tedious as writing, was to give them open slather.
'You can use any words you wish in this piece, people.'
'Yeah? Even #@&!!!?'
'Especially #@&!!!. Remember only one person will be reading this, or two if you decide to include me...'
And that's where it started. My commitment to the profane.
What did these kids do with this license to be dirty?
They wrote some of the most powerful stories I have ever read. These kids, predominantly the failures of the school system wrote about suicide, the death of a sibling, being molested by their step-dad, watching their mum die of cancer. As well as the pet story, the romance story, the crime story, the 'my big day' story. But it was this first group of stories that stayed with me. They were written with a fearless honesty that brought tears to my eyes. I think writing these accounts (I insisted 'only true stories please') helped give them a distance from the events themselves; and sharing them made them feel normal again.
Some of the less personal confession stories I published into an anthology and called it "Telling it True". It was sold from the Kohia Teachers Centre in Auckland and used to inspire other kids, in other schools. Teaching was a magnificent job in those days.
Years later, when I began to write myself, I applied the lessons I had learnt from teaching these kids to my own craft. 'Does this do justice to the event?' 'Is this how they would actually say that?'. These questions were the quality controls which allowed me to achieve my ultimate goal; authenticity.
All of which brings me to where I am today; back before the courts trying to justify the use of what they term as obscene and offensive language. The issue is so far beyond my frame of reference I have to regard them as Martians; discussing things at a mind-bogglingly basic level, and assuming nothing.
Back in the late 80s, when I ran those writing classes, I never received one complaint. No student ever broke the covenant implied 'by personal writing'. No one ran home, writing book in hand and said 'Look Mum. Look what he lets me do.'
Then I moved to a new school, where the risks involved at being completely open, were too great. The writing here was cautious, implicit, secretive and ultimately less meaningful and less successful. I accepted this new scenario and threw my efforts into Drama which seemed to tap into a similar vein but left no artefact behind which could lead to discovery and humiliation.
When I became that thing known as a 'novelist', I showed my manuscript of Thunder Road to the school librarian. I trusted her judgement about what boys (it was a boy's school) liked to read. She gave it back to me in due course saying "That's great Ted, but there is one word in there that will block this book from every school library in the country."
I suspected as much. "Does the word start with C?" I asked.
So there we are. I had come full circle. I pulled out the word. The book won prizes and went out into the world doing its silent but important business. I had no regrets.
Ten years later, when I had become committed to my 'Into The River' project, I made no such concession and this is the reason I find myself in the position I am in today.
Well, it's one of the reasons.
The other is sex.
But that will have to wait for another day.
Ted Dawe is the authour of 'Into The River', a book which is subject to an interim ban until the Film and Literature Board of Review. It's the first such ban on any book since the current censorship law was passed in 1993.