Saturday, July 29, 2017


AD For French Connection Clothing

Let’s see.  What can I say about the Washington DC mess when I can’t even think about it clearly — at least while I look for the exit sign.

When kids in my classroom began to smart off by using the “f” word, which they used so frequently that they were hardly aware that they were still using it without any particular reason.  I would say in a quiet, calm voice, “Do not say fuck in this classroom.”  

Of course, they were quick to jump all over me for saying fuck in that sentence, because kids love to catch adults doing what the kids are forbidden to do by those same adults.  And I would say,  “I just want it to be clear which word I mean.”  Then we could talk about cursing, the history of cursing (since I’m from the era of Bergen Evans, who made quite a study of the subject back through history.) 

If you’re really into this stuff, here’s a link that includes the famous list of forbidden words that provoked comedian George Carlin

In case you’ve forgotten the forbidden words, they are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and titsI was in college (’57-’61) before I heard anyone say “cocksucker” and I had to think to figure out what it meant.  There are two obscene acts on this list of single words.   Shit, piss and tits can slide past without remark these days.  Attentive seventh-graders no doubt learned some new words as soon as Scaramouche began to talk, but maybe not.

In 1989 a student leaned over the study hall table and said to me, “I ‘spose you’d like me to lick your clit.”  When I was his age, I didn't know there was such a thing as a clit.  I think he was partly reacting to my customary response when a student said, “Fuck you!”  I would say, “No, thank you.”  He was also fond of the gesture of flickering his tongue between his V’d fingers.  The globalization of obscene gestures is underway.

The kids liked insulting each other, sometimes in “slam books” which is a coded notebook, mostly kept by girls, full of nastiness that claims to be innocent because it is presumably anonymous.  Nowadays that’s done on Facebook or Twitter, et al and people take the slams so seriously that they commit suicide.

I found a great essay about a Middle Eastern camel drivers’ culture where they raised insults to an art form, maligning curses in the form of narratives, something like “your mother wears combat boots" but more directly sexual instead of gender role prescriptions.  In New Guinea where tribes live on the crests of ridges between deep valleys hard to cross, they avoid warfare by shouting insults across the rifts.  Since the epithets are in their native languages, I can’t quote them, and anyway I have no idea what their taboos are and those are the usual source of insults.  

So I brought this essay about insults to school and presented it to the kids.  They thought the very idea of explicitly insulting someone was against propriety and common sense.  They claimed they would never do such a thing.  Because to them, part of a successful insult or curse was that it was unexpected, so verboten that it indicated high passion, and was judged by the reaction of the cursed person.  (And they went right on insulting each other without admitting it.)

A major use of offensive language and acts is to thin the line between those in control and those being controlled, which is what the kids were after.  When Scaramouche uses vivid sexual insults, he is trying to say,  “I’m as good as you are, you superior patronizing snob freak.”  In other words, “Your shit don’t smell like cold cream.”  (Or maybe S. was high.)  There’s no thought content, just emotional passion which shows that the accuser is weak, vulnerable, and has already lost.

There’s another dimension, which is that of the media fascination with the Sicilian mafia as reincarnated in America and even Canada.  So the films have offered scripts we’ve all learned.  We KNOW what it means when someone says, “I’ll be surprised if so-and-so doesn’t find a horse head in his bed tomorrow morning.”  Someone from another country or era who doesn’t know that the horse in question was a beloved race horse will miss some of the tragedy.  

Many people, esp. guys, can quote dialogue from these movies, and consider who among the cast of characters fits whom, even which one they choose to emulate.  Scaramouche, Bannnon, and even Kushner with his little boy voice can easily be fitted into the imaginary world created by writers sitting in Hollywood reacting to all the previous movies on the subject.

No one can threaten to kill Trump’s horse or dog, because he doesn’t have pets.  He has children.  This is a very bad thought, but I suspect Trump occasionally thinks it.  When they attack others, people use the threats and obscenities that offend themselves the most.  I expect at the moment Trump is trying not to think of perp walks and being stuffed into a squad car.  (Lakoff?)  He has enough hair that he doesn't need to worry about a protective hand on his head.

These politicians are so obsessed with control, domination, reputation and so on that they become transparent, with arrows pointing to their weaknesses, their insecurity, their worst fears.  There’s no use insulting McCain by saying he’s no hero — he doesn’t have to prove that.  It just is.  And threatening Murkowski by hinting at cutting off Alaska’s money might have been an effective threat in Montana when Zinke was our senator, but it is too obvious when he’s a big shot and Murkowski is female.  He’s using blunt force — which is often ineffective. And it implies that he has been and still is vulnerable to bribes.

Celebrities use obscenities all the time to show that they are above the ordinary riff-raff.  Of course, after those cartoon Simpson children have all developed potty-mouths, it’s less effective.  I sometimes ponder what word could replace fuck.  It will need to start with a sibilant consonant and end with a plosive one.  

Sibilant, in phonetics, a fricative consonant sound, in which the tip, or blade, of the tongue is brought near the roof of the mouth and air is pushed past the tongue to make a hissing sound. In English s, z, sh, and zh (the sound of the s in “pleasure”) are sibilants.”  “Fricative” itself sounds a little dirty, implying friction which implies sex.   

The basic plosives in English are t, k, and p (voiceless) and d, g, and b (voiced)”.  Maddow says “freaking” which obeys this sibilant/plosive form.  One could invent a lot of nonsense “words” but the response is liable to be bafflement.  “Suck” works.  Maybe “scoop” could develop into a dirty word.  No,  plosives on both ends.   

How about “truck”?  “Thank?”  You know the stories about receiving lines where there is so much ambient noise that a bored and rebellious person can respond to insincere compliments withfuck you very much” and never be detected.

Cuss words are a problem for video and sound engineeers.  “If you've ever recorded the human voice with a microphone, you've heard them - those nasty blasts from the mouth that quickly ruin an otherwise perfect recording. We call them plosives and sibilance, and they're the bane of recording engineers around the world.”

Brexit” is not sibilant enough at the beginning.  Political cursing might begin to replace sexual cursing just as sexual cursing replaced religious cursing.  Hardly anyone exclaims “God’s blood!” anymore.  But here comes psychological cursing, more technical than just plain "you're crazy."  You gotta have a diagnosis.

I overheard a conversation between an Obama fan, who praised Obama's sophistication and poise, and a Trump fan, who felt that the latter was far more real and "one of us."  But the advantage to restraint is that if a person like Obama said, "Fuck you!" we'd be blown away.  When the current batch of thugs curses, we laugh.  It has to be labeled "strong language" and "vulgar" or we wouldn't notice.

But vulgar stuff sells, as described in this article about FCUK clothes and Holy Crap cereal.

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