Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Mucking stalls. Freelance writing. How do they differ? I discuss.

Potty Mouth

rememberI am scarred for life.

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.

pottymouth1

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.

Bollocks.

Oops.

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 offensivethe 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 lux_ladydon’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.

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12 thoughts on “Potty Mouth

  1. Paige Lockton-Wilde on said:

    Karen, I have been reading your horsey articles for a couple of decades. They have informed and entertained and enlightened, but when you are set free to write for yourself you … hmmmm … looking for the right words … you fucking rock!

    Like

    • High praise indeed. You fucking rock yourself. 🙂

      So on the subject of parenting, what has been your policy with your kids? (And happy Mom’s day btw.)

      Like

      • Paige Wilde on said:

        In regards to my kids and their potty mouth … I explain that some expressions sound crude in the mouths of children and will leave adults with a bad impression of them. They don’t want that – they want to be well thought of. There is a time, place, age and audience. Those expressions include other words like crap, stupid, dick, etc… and if they are going to do potty talk (boys at 6 – 9 years old are obsessed with farts, poo and pee!) it should be with their peers, not in front of adults. Then they get that there are no ‘bad’ words, only innapropriate times to use them.

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  2. I’m trying to pick myself up off the floor but between the sore abdomen from stitches that I can still feel and laughing myself silly, it’s fuckin’ impossible. I love this essay. You are erudite and make your point well. Words are meant to express the sentiment of the moment and we writers know when certain words are, or are not, appropriate. As ‘they’ say, “You go, girl! Fuckin’ – A”

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  3. Well, if my aim was to monetize the blog and become wildly, vastly popular, I think I’ve just shot that in the foot for about the 27th time … but fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. 🙂

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  4. Paige Wilde on said:

    Where is the photo of the Standardbreds beiing raced under tack taken? It used to be common and I have heard they are trying to bring it back.

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    • I took that at Georgian Downs in Barrie. They have an “Extreme Horsepower” night once a year, with all sorts of variations on the usual one-mile dash — 1/4 mile sprints, 3 mile marathons, races held going the wrong way of the track, a race for minis, etc. A couple of years ago they started offering trotting under saddle as an exhibition race, and I believe this year it will be a betting event. There’s a little group trying to make it happen on a more widespread basis; I know there have been exhibition races at Woodbine and Flamboro as well, and it’s a big hit with the crowd.

      I know I really, really want to do it if someone would lend me the silks and the horse! The tack seems to be anything English the riders can scrounge … some actual race saddles, some jumping saddles, I’ve seen a Wintec or two ….

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  5. I’ll give you my parental perspective.

    My husband and I eschew all “potty mouth” language (this does not include the word “fart” because, ain’t nothing potty about that); our children have never heard “shit” “fuck” “damn” “bitch” or “hell” (am I missing any??) from our mouths in casual conversation. Our stated position to the children is that we find that language to be unprofessional. We’re not all tweaked if other people use them, it’s just that we don’t. Haven’t in twenty years, don’t plan on picking up the habit now.

    So, when they first heard these words (at school, they were 9 and 7), they asked about them. I gave it to them straight: told them what each word referred to, explained how they were generally used and mentioned that since their father and I chose to not use those words, we expected that they would not use them in our presence. And, further more, as their teachers and school staff expect a certain deportment in school, we would expect that they would also keep those words out of situations in which they would be overhead by an adult.

    But. Their peers would use those words (and! more!). We told them that what they did in their peer groups was at their discretion. We assume they use the words, but we don’t have to listen to them.

    Like

    • In 20 years not one ‘dammit’ has passed either of your lips? (And you’ve been in proximity to horses for at least some of those years?)

      I am in awe. Seriously. You are way, WAY more zen than I will ever be.

      Like

  6. Lesley Kelly on said:

    That was fuckin’ brilliant! Well said!

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  7. Just found your blog now and I love your post ! The English language is wonderful with a word for everything and you have a right to express yourself with any words you so choose. I will be back !

    Like

    • Nice of you to pop in, Ruth! I figure any English word which gets borrowed by other languages and is in liberal use, has a kind of universal thumbs up … ‘fuck’ is one of those words. (Also, ‘okay’, but it’s somewhat less scintillating, though its origins are rather interesting!)

      Like

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