Monday, March 2, 2009

Gimme a !@^#! Break

Taking its cue from a 10th-grader, Los Angeles County has designated the first week in March as No Cussing Week.

I've always been fascinated with profanity because it has a built-in paradox. By labeling words no-nos, we give them a unique power that they otherwise would not have.

True, obscenities are not completely arbitrary in that they're grounded in natural taboos about reproduction and elimination. But when control freaks draw a line between a word like "crap" and a word like "shit," they give the latter unwarranted power.

In other words, by opposing profanity, one actually creates profanity.

I look forward to a day when we teach kids that words are their servants and not their masters.

George Carlin must be turning over in his !#^@! grave.

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LL Blackwell said...


This is something I totally struggle with myself (admittedly, my mouth is far from being sailor-worth, however). But in my classroom, as long as it's not disrespectful, I put up with it being PG-13. I *have* noticed, however, that a few students cuss solely because their vocabularies are so poor (think of how many adjectives you can avoid with a correctly inflected obscenity).

But it's totally true about giving them power! My step-mother-in-law (who believes "crap" is cussing) tried to lecture me one time about it and that it's a sign of a lack of education, but I'd have to say the smartest folks I know are the ones who use that language the most eloquently. She has no problem with me saying someone is a poo-poo head, however. Hmm...

June Casagrande said...

A Kurt Vonnegut book (I think "The Sirens of Titan") had a protagonist who was considered odd because he never swore -- even though he was in the military. His reason: Swearing gives people an excuse not to listen to you.

I never forgot that.

I'm all for teaching kids how to respect social conventions, as long as they understand why. Wearing a sweat-stained undershirt to a wedding sends a message, just as a sixth-grader saying the F word to a teacher sends a message. That doesn't make the F word bad any more than it makes my T-shirt drawer bad. (But don't get me started on my sock drawer.)

Joel said...

I heard this in a soundbite on NPR this morning and have been contemplating posting a link in my Twitter/FB status with a "WTF?"

Actually, I'm proud of my conservative friends for putting up with my recent juxtaposition of Jesus with "WTFedness." I probably shouldn't bait them any more than necessary.

On NPR they related a bit that testifies to your theory, June. Apparently club meetings are frequently interrupted by passersby who can't help defiling the sacred space by sticking their heads in the door and shouting profanity.

And, yeah, on the other hand, I've been in contexts where "f***" was just so much white noise, mostly testifying to the lack of culture and education among the locals.

I'm of two minds (well, far more than that, but at least two): on the one hand, yes, it would be nice if we could grow past our silly taboos. On the other hand, it is nice to be able to pull one o' dem pups out at just the right moment, yaknow, when folks least expect it and it can have maximum impact. One hopes that this gets folks thinking; at the very least, it shakes them up a little bit. And the shaking is a good thing, I think.

Joel said...

Oops. Just saw that the AP story did indeed mention that tidbit about the meetings interrupted by interjections of the "unholy." Um, speaking of a lack of reading . . . Oy.

June Casagrande said...

Please don't tell me there will be a pop quiz on the AP story. Please.

Re those words. I guess you're right that their current powers can be used to great effect (and great fun). When they're really out of context, they can be hilarious. I can't think of any real example an old SNL sketch comes to mind. It's about a royal gathering at which the servant loudly announces the arrival of Lord and Lady Douchebag. Stuff like that.

I used to swear a lot. It was an extension of a little anger problem I had. But the more good therapy I got, the less I felt like swearing. Now I've become resensitized to it. I don't really like to hear it. But there are lots of things in the world I don't like. For example, I'd rather hear a thousand kindergarteners deliver a thousand utterances of the F word than get behind one fuckin' SUV.

: )

. said...

In 1995 I had a new computer and made audio recordings of my friends using the fancy microphone feature. I told them to say whatever they wanted...and your contribution (which I still have) was simply one long, drawn-out word: "Fuuuuck."


June Casagrande said...

That's hilarious!

Yup, that's how I used to talk all right.


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