Let me get my retaliation in first here.
I’m a swearer.
A loud swearer. A thriving swearer. A swearer by whom no corner of the expletive lexicon goes unexplored when he stubs his toe on the bed or when customer service departments turn out to be anything but.
I have to make this point because whenever I write articles on declining behavioural standards, I just know I’m laying myself open to being labelled as some middle-aged God Squadder who nevertheless lives with his mother.
I’m not and I don’t. I just believe that everything in life comes with responsibilities. You gamble but not with the housekeeping allowance. You enjoy sex but not with a different person every weekend. And when you swear, you make sure there’s no-one within earshot who might be offended by it.
I don’t care if all grown-ups bar Amish know what the words average. I don’t already care that they’re only words. I believe that civilised societies have lines on the floor that no-one should cross and no matter how quaint or old-fashioned those lines might sometimes appear, they are infinitely preferable to societies that sign up to the ‘anything goes’ philosophy.
I’ve sampled those societies. Hell, as a British citizen, I’m sampling one right now. Far from being progressive, they are self-centred, inward-looking, harsh and ugly.
So I get a little depressed when one of poker’s flagship titles – WPT Poker – The Official World Poker Tour Magazine – discloses that they’re lowering the barricades at the World Series of Poker.
At this, the game’s World Championship and shop window, so focused have they been on keeping this amoral game – based as it is on cornerstones of greed and deception – trammelled by some sort of order, that foul language has acquired its own label in poker’s glossary: the F-bomb.
You drop an F-bomb at the WSOP, you sit out for ten minutes and watch your chips get eaten away as you are reduced to an impotent spectator. As sanctions go, it is perfect. Not so tough as to be draconian: not so ineffective as to be farcical. A player knows he’s crossed a line and most make damn sure they don’t do it twice.
Now, the WSOP has gone the way of all flesh. Players bitched about the F-bomb rule and organisers caved in. Too many people in strength these days, confronted with a choice of being ‘hip’ or being right, plump for the easy option.
Now, you can drop the ‘bomb’, as long as you haven’t specifically aimed it at another player.
When spectators’ ears are bombarded with the F-information, they’re either offended by it or they aren’t. The context in which it’s delivered is neither here nor there. We’re talking swearing, for heaven’s sake, not Shakespeare.
Not content with reporting the capitulation of others, however, WPT Poker has to add one of its own.
There is a convention observed in the game that when you play poor cards badly and take down the pot by nothing more than an outrageously-lucky combination of community cards, you effect your best ‘sheepish’ confront, mouth a quiet ‘sorry’ to your opponent and then everyone moves on.
Not good enough anymore, in the eyes of Eddie Gaines, who feels we should skip the ‘sorry’ stage and get straight to the moving-on.
“This simply adds insult to injury. You aren’t sorry at all. You’re glad to have won the hand and he knows it,” Gaines writes. “…this information is red rag to a bull in a card room. Say ‘unlucky pal’ or say nothing at all.”
Eddie must play with rather more wafer-thin temperaments than I do, because my opponents are usually smart and gracious enough to know that I am not apologising for winning in such circumstances but for the outrageous fluke by which I did so. I would also suggest that if a man is Neanderthal enough to erupt over a ‘sorry’, he is likely to react no less amiably to the suggestion that you and he are ‘pals’.
Sadly, I fear most people will take Gaines’ different advice and simply say nothing, which would at the minimum be consist with the mood of our time. Pull up the drawbridge, focus on Number One and the hell with everyone else. If I thought this progressive Society any, I might be prepared to buy it.
Unfortunately, quaint though watching your language and token gestures might be, they belong to a patchwork of small courtesies that oil life’s cogs and it is a hard-faced world without them.
I would suggest that the quest to be king of the table is tense enough without degenerating into Lord of the Flies [http://www.rit.edu/%7esjg2490/lotf/index.html].