I have been accused of being (gasp) a Potty Mouth.
As in, “Please take me off your mailing list. We don’t do potty mouth here.”
This, in reference to my previous post, which used the expression “fucked up my back” early on and then never used another profanity for the rest of the rant. (Which is rare, actually.)
Oh, the shame of it. Oh, the humiliation. I shall never be able to show my face in polite society again. I shall have to rend my garments and go consider the error of my ways in some damp, inhospitable cave somewhere.
I am vulgar.
What are we, seven?
Seriously. Just the expression, “potty mouth”. It is to roll one’s eyes derisively.
(And besides, if this guy found himself on my blog list, he put himself there. I didn’t subscribe him without his knowledge. Asshat.)
The thing is, I like words. I like them pretty much indiscriminately. The English language has a few dozen words or expressions for just about every occasion (though, yes, it does fail miserably when it comes to pronouns for those of undefined, indeterminate or intermediate gender, especially in the plural). One can pick and choose how one wishes to express oneself. Does one wish to be forthright but subtle? Or does one want to take the ‘blunt instrument’ route? Does one prefer to obfuscate? Tippy-toe around an issue with a euphemism, more often than not verging on the ridiculous? (Because of course humans, especially white Anglo-Saxon ones who speak English, are very frightened of some concepts to do with sex and death, and prefer to skirt the issue in a little tarantella of denial.)
These are only a few of the delightful options.
I don’t like to limit my options, so I refuse to villainize one word more than another. Especially a massively, insanely useful word like “fuck’. Much cleverer essayists than I (among them the immortal George Carlin, who dubbed it a noble word which ought to be a proper name, as in, “I am Fuck! Fuck of the Mountain!”) have expounded on the vast flexibility of the word fuck — it’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s an adverb, it’s an adjective, it’s an expletive, it’s a descriptive, it’s a deed. Fucking brilliant all ’round. Why would we deny ourselves the use of such a crisp, easily pronounceable word with a fascinating lineage (going back to the 15th century, having crept into English from Dutch or Low German, sayeth the linguists)?
Fiddle-faddle, say I. Horse hockey. Um … pshaw.
Of course, I do recognize that there is a time and a place for some words. I’ve been churning out articles for horse magazines for nigh on 20 years, and I can’t think of a single instance in which I felt compelled to make my point by resorting to ‘fuck’ or any of its vilified cousins. I use medically correct anatomical terms, where appropriate, and since it’s not my job to opine, but to report, when I’m in journalist mode, I have little need for exclamative prose, even should my editors be inclined to publish same, which I am well aware they are not.
Most of us know which words are considered verboten and which are not. Though really, the list is pretty arbitrary. And it varies quite a lot from place to place. Take the word “fanny”, for example. In North America, it’s an innocuous, adorable euphemism for the human ass (yes, I said ass, not ‘buttocks’) …. in fact, Fanny was a common woman’s name up until the early 20th century, when it gradually fell out of favour. But say the word “fanny” in South Africa, and you have been scandalous … there, and in some other places around the globe, it refers to the vagina and is considered a couple of levels more … cheeky.
Or watch the film, “Pirate Radio” (released in the UK and Europe as “The Boat That Rocked”). Kenneth Branagh plays a nasty-spirited government drone intent on controlling what sort of music goes out over the airwaves in Great Britain … and one of his minions is a man with the surname, Twat. Now “twat”, in North America, is one of those save-it-till-the-end-of-the-argument words. Pretty inflammatory, very not complimentary, a mean-spirited crude little word. In the UK, however, it’s a rather mild insult, on the same level (and of similar usage) as “prat”. Needless to say, there are dozens and dozens of twat jokes all through Pirate Radio, and to the North American ear they are a little harsher than we’re used to!
The point is, what is considered vulgar or shocking or rude or offensive (or worst of all, dirty) is not fixed. It’s as fluid as the language, which is something those with rigid rules about what is acceptable, and what is not, would do well to remember. Before he calls me something as laughable as “potty mouth”.
Now, I am not a parent, and I’m not entirely sure how I would have handled the issue of verboten words with my hypothetical child. My parents avoided them for the most part, but it sure as hell didn’t keep me from learning them, and using them, quite a bit more frequently than either of them do. (It’s a generational thing for the most part. My mother, an avowed atheist, still cringes when I say, “Christ!” more than she does when I say, “Shit!”. Go figure.)
I smell hypocrisy in most parents who threaten punitive action if certain words come out of their offsprings’ mouths … and I certainly don’t want any imaginary child of mine to be afraid of language or categorize one word as more or less worthy than another. I also hate the idea of catering to the internet trolls who appear to exist only to register how offended they are by everyone else. Yet I recognize that social convention finds it more shocking for certain phrases to come out of a child’s mouth, even if they are the appropriate ones for the situation.
Generally speaking, I’m agin censorship and in favour of free speech. And nowhere can I be freer with my speech than in this blog. This is the place where I get to roll out as many fucking fucks as I want, and you don’t get to tell me not to. This is my ranting place. This is where I write the way I speak. And let’s face it — would Carlin have been as funny if he had censored his language for a G-rated crowd? Would Bill Maher? Would Jon Stewart or Billy Connolly? It’s the extreme quality of so-called four-letter-words that heightens the hyperbole of comedy (or, I hope, in my case, snark). All four of these comedians have made it their business to skewer hypocrisy wherever they have found it, and that includes our use of language. Without that freedom of speech, we’re stuck in the Catskills, going “Take my wife, please.” Yawn.
That’s not to say that I don’t find certain turns of phrase kind of juvenile. Toilet humour, for example, just says to me that you’re stuck in some Freudian phase of life that you were probably supposed to have progressed from. But to each his own. I’m not going to shy away from the word ‘fart’ just because I think your fart jokes label you tragically stuck, sniggering, in the second grade. I just don’t buy into the idea that some words are Good and some are Bad.
It’s the users who are good or bad. You can use words with skill and fearlessness, or you can ride your high horse onto some rigid little pathway where only a handful of words (and by extension, ideas) are acceptable, and the rest of us are labelled crude, coarse, off-colour, in poor taste, and about two dozen other judgmental things that Carlin (again) once recited in his routine on the Seven Words.
In which case, go fuck yourself. (You knew that was coming; ferchrissakes don’t act all shocked now.)
PS — I know you’ve probably all seen versions of the video below, but I really couldn’t leave it out, now, could I.