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Say What? South Pasadena, Calif., Declares Itself a Cuss-Free Zone for a Week

What the @$%.? This community on the edge of Los Angeles has become a cuss-free zone.

So if you're headed to South Pasadena this week, be sure to turn down the volume on that Snoop Dogg CD, and, if the little old lady from Pasadena cuts you off in traffic, don't even think about flipping her the bird.

Not that police will slap cuffs on you and haul your sorry, er, butt off to jail in light of the proclamation passed Wednesday by the City Council. But you could be shamed into better behavior by the unsettling glares of residents who take their reputation for civility seriously.

"That's one of the purposes of this," Mayor Michael Cacciotti said of his city's proclamation designating the first week of March as No Cussing Week. "It provides us a reminder to be more civil, to elevate the level of discourse."

The proclamation will be in effect until Friday, and then the first week of every March hereafter.

South Pasadena, a tranquil city of tree-shaded cottages at the base of a mountain range eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles, isn't the first to try to rein in potty mouths. Earlier this year, the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, Mo., proposed banning swearing in bars. Last year, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons called for an industrywide ban on racially and sexually charged epithets.

But what's different about the latest push to stop saying in public the words that Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton recently discovered we still can't say on television is that it was proposed by a 14-year-old boy.

"My mom and dad always taught me good morals, good values, and not cussing was one of them," said McKay Hatch, the founder of South Pasadena High School's No Cussing Club, during a recent break between study hall and tennis practice.

"I've cussed before, I'm not gonna lie to you," Hatch quickly added. "But I try not to cuss any more."

He was in junior high school when he became fed up with all the blue language around him.

He understood why his friends use foul language: "They just want to fit in like everybody else and they don't know how. They figure if they cuss maybe it's an easy way to do that."

But it wasn't for him.

"I finally told my friends, `I don't cuss.' And I said, `If you want to hang out with me, you don't cuss."'

It took a couple of years, but enough friends finally came around that Hatch formed a 50-member club, handed out fliers and called the group's first meeting, held June 1.

Nine months later, the No Cussing Club has a Web site, claims a membership of 10,000 and boasts chapters in several states and countries. Hatch considers his greatest achievement, though, to be getting his hometown of 25,000 to become a cuss-free zone.

Cacciotti, the mayor, isn't surprised that South Pasadena started the movement. He noted that the city broke off from its much bigger neighbor 120 years ago when residents unhappy with the saloon trade in downtown Pasadena voted 85-25 to go their own way.

By midweek, however, it was unclear just how many people in South Pasadena knew about the no-cussing edict.

A clerk behind the counter at Buster's Ice Cream & Coffee Shop just laughed and said, "That sounds pretty funny."

David Salcedo, who manages High Life Burgers, a popular hangout near the high school, hadn't heard of it either.

But, come to think of it, he said, the language among the after-school crowd has been pretty clean lately. The biggest problem these days, Salcedo said, is kids talking too loudly.

"But they're good kids," he added. "They just eat their chili fries and go home."

For his part, Hatch hopes his No Cussing Club will lead to cuss-free zones in other cities. He believes it could be a quality-of-life issue, and that there may be less violence if people behave better.

"You have to start with the little things," he said.