Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Archive for the tag “George Carlin”

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.

Please Don’t Ask Me to Write About …

I haven’t been raining negativity, bitterness and bile down on my gentle readers lately.  And apparently, that has to stop.

It has been suggested to me by a devotee of WFTRSOTS (okay, ‘devotee’ might be phrasing it rather strongly, but there is forensic evidence that she pops by on occasion) that I should share with you some of the topics I’d just as soon never, ever, ever write about ever, ever again.

Is that the sort of thing you’d like to read?  No?  It’s just her?

Never mind, I’m going to forge ahead anyway.  Woe betide me should I disappoint her.  You can be the next one to suggest a topic.  (No, really.  Go ahead.  Let’s see if I can riff on anything a la the late, great George Carlin.  My guess is no.)

By the way, I should probably mention that I have made some headway recently in my ongoing crusade to demonstrate that I can, in fact, write entire paragraphs of published text without mentioning hooved quadrupeds of any kind.  This seems necessary because there are a head-spinning number of editors out there who don’t seem to be able to extrapolate from one of my articles about a veterinary issue, that I can write about medical issues, and who can’t read a piece about a riding vacation and take the great leap to believing I could craft a piece about a boating or skiing vacation.

Between my snowmobiling jaunt in Quebec, back in January, and some agricultural pieces ranging from celebrating the Goat Farmer of the Year to rather more sober discussions of how fully farmers are adopting mobile technology, I have now collected …. ohhhhh, about a dozen clips, I guess …. which avoid horses like the plague.  (Okay, yes, the goats are quadrupeds and have cloven hooves, but the article really discusses the award-winning goat farmer rather than his charges.  Mostly.)

I consider this a minor triumph, but then, I have to take my triumphs where I find ’em these days.

I was also charged with writing my very first infographic a few months ago.  It wasn’t easy, let me assure you.  But the artist quite skilfully made a silk purse out of a (proverbial) sow’s ear …

I would happily write about goats some more.  Or pigs.  Or soybeans.  I’m learning quite a lot about all three.

But please don’t ask me to write another infographic.  It made my head hurt.

Of course, it’s still true that the vast majority of my portfolio — and the archive currently stands at somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2000 published articles — does feature, or at least discuss, equines of one sort or another.  You’d be surprised how much variety there is within that niche:  personality profiles, hard science, event reports and recaps, PR for future events, how-to’s, training tips, health and veterinary advances, a few fluff pieces, even some controversy on occasion.  Maybe I’m not a flak-jacket journalist, but that doesn’t it’s all meaningless trivia (she said self-righteously).

There are few truly new topics under the sun, however.  And there are some old chestnuts that editors seem to trot out every year without fail … depending on we starving freelancers to invent a new spin, lest we all simultaneously slip into vegetative states from the sheer, desperate redundancy of it all.

Some of these subjects, I don’t mind, honestly.  I don’t object to writing about internal parasites, for example.  There’s usually a bit of new science to discuss every few years, which keeps it fresh and interesting for me … and also, although I am easily grossed out by, say, eye diseases (I cannot look at the photos — ick), I apparently have a high tolerance for pondering the life cycles of slimy blood-sucking phylla who inhabit eyeballs and intestinal folds.

But please shoot me, I beg of you, if I ever have to write about the following again:

1. Fencing for horses.  Coma-inducing?  Oh, gawd, yes.  New stuff to discuss?  Pretty much never.  The most exciting thing to come down the pike in recent decades has been an electric fencing product which has two-way current or something and doesn’t need to be grounded, which I guess is great because I don’t really understand the whole grounding thing and thus find it difficult to describe in articles.  But ‘great’, in this case, is very much a relative term.  If I have to put together one more bloody chart comparing oak board fencing to pipe corrals to high-tensile wire to synthetics, I may in fact garrote myself on the next electric fence I see, regardless of its grounding or lack thereof.

2. Thorny regulatory issues.  Especially when they’re American.  I write for a lot of American magazines, some of which, in their peculiarly Ameri-centric way, insist on ONLY American sources being quoted.  This, to me, is short-sighted as hell … seriously, if you had a chance to hear from a showjumping expert like Beat Mandli (Switzerland) or a dressage guru like Edward Gal (the Netherlands), wouldn’t that be every bit as interesting to a reader from the United States, as someone home-grown?  I don’t see how the US can continue to teach its citizens that nothing of any note happens beyond its borders, but I digress.  What really makes me crazy is trying to figure out which government agency I have to phone, when I am commissioned to write an article about some issue which concerns or involves American government agencies (ie. drug regulations, feed and supplement labels, or the slaughter industry).  The whole regulatory situation in the US, with so many things under state jurisdiction rather than national — and thus wildly different from state to state — makes me absolutely postal.

I’m nearly as unenthused about doing pieces about Canadian regulatory issues, but at least I can usually identify a ministry or organization as a likely starting place.  Fuggeddaboutit in the US of A.

3. Fly Control.  Again, this is a topic that makes the rounds at the beginning of every summer, and it is just mind-numbingly stupifying to write about.  And to read about too.  I can tell you all about the relative toxicities of various pyrethroid compounds, and discuss the efficacy of supposedly natural alternatives like apple cider vinegar and (I kid you not) Avon Skin-So-Soft, but really, I’d rather not.

4. Trailering.  By this I mean, the methods and mechanics of moving horses from one place to another over asphalt.  I have discussed health issues.  Regulatory (ugh) issues.  How to inspect your trailer for safety.  How to select the right towing vehicle.  Just run me over with a diesel dually next time instead of making me rehash it all again.

Et vous, gentle reader?  If you are the type who peruses horse magazines, which topics do you find irretrievably old and tired and would rather not see again in your lifetime?  I promise I’ll stop writing about them immediately.

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