by Alex in Toulouse
Sat Jun 10th, 2006 at 03:44:02 AM EST
|I've been thinking about the fucking nature of curse words for some frigging time now, and I believe I've now bloody reached a point in my reflexion at which I can post a diary, Jesus Christ.|
Not too long ago I had a private discussion with Izzy around a US TV series called Deadwood - about cowboys and general life on the western US frontier some time in the late 19th century. I told her that the cursing in the show seemed anachronic (ie. actors use "fuck" almost as an interjection in that show). She explained to me that this had been deliberately chosen by the director(s), on the basis that if curse words of the times had been used, ("Jesus", "hell" etc), viewers would not have realized how foul-mouthed people back then were.
This got me thinking: what is it about curse words that bothers some?
Is it the tone or perpetrator
|Could it be that whether swear words bother depends on the way they're uttered or the person that utters them? Indeed, the most polite of British gentlemen can say, in a legendarily pragmatic and calm voice, "fuck you he said, jolly good I replied" while sipping tea, and this may not offend anyone. Whereas a poorly-shaven, Harley-riding, long-haired swearer could provoke mass fainting in some circles, with the same expression spoken in a raucous and uncaring voice. Likewise, when a 3 year old kid says "screw that bitch", a lot of neck hairs will rise, while the most elegant of British gentlemen can talk to his pedigree hunting dog in the following way, that will offend few people: "now listen to me Hectorius, you be a good dog and screw that bitch, jolly good I say".|
Is it only about mass-approved ways of communicating anger in a given time context?
|Is there some power in curse words used by one generation, that is lost upon another, like the director(s) of Deadwood tried to illustrate? Undoubtedly, I'd think. Not too long ago I scolded teenagers in my mom's village for behaving like pricks (please note my expert use of the word "prick") with her, and one of them looked at me icily and flashed two fingers at me. Now up to then I was familiar with the middle finger, but not with this. So I stuck up three fingers at him and asked him if this was stronger. Did I pick up extra cursing baggage in the process? Nope, any time in the future when this happens again, I'll still react in the same unimpressed & unperturbed way. Looking back, had this kid done a violent one-arm slap (which we call "un bras d'honneur" in France - see picture on the left) at me, I may have connected with the agressivity behind the gesture. But two fingers in the air? Nope, can't say that I get it.|
Maybe swear words can only bother in a cultural context?
|Well if swear words are generation-based, it's an easy jump to go from there to saying that they must also be culture-based. Why is any movie that contains even only one swear word destined to a PG-13 rating in the US, while here in France we nearly celebrate (at an honorary & illustrious degree) the alleged use of the word "merde" ("shit", though in those days it would have carried a lot more strength and meant something closer to "fuck off") by Cambronne at Waterloo? Does it have something to do with the "Vive la France" context in which "merde" was used (ie. in response to the English army's proposition for Cambronne to surrender, seeing as how his men were surrounded)? I could also here wink at Sven's earlier curiosity regarding character-cursing (such as "@$%" in Asterix) ... is that cultural, or rather universal? Ah, yes, the Latin alphabet ... but could there be some way to draw a universally accepted representation of a curse word? And if we could, what would this say about the meaning of curse words?|
Is it the actual meaning of the words that can bother?
|Ok, if we're going to discuss the meaning of curse words, let's have it. Some curse words represent actions or notions that some people may consider vile, as was recently discussed here in poemless's diary about "whores". "PD" for example, an acronym for "PeDophile", is commonly used here in France. Both as a standard insult with a not-necessarily-emphasised connection to homosexuality, (such as "sissy"), and as a specific way to hint at someone being a homosexual on the basis that homosexuality is vile ("you gaywad"). The latter is discriminatory, but the former is even scarier as it perpetuates into habit the name-calling of people through an indirect relation to homosexuality. Besides, you'll also choke at the notion that homosexuality and pedophilia are amalgamated through this word!|
Another example of a curse word's meaning as a cause of antagonistic reaction, would be something like "va te faire enculer" ("go get yourself sodomized"). This uttered by a child will disturb because of the meaning behind the word (sodomy being perceived as something vile by those offended, or perhaps simply as something that pre-puberty kids need not know anything about).
Frankly, I'm not convinced by this meaning approach. For one, this brings me straight back to my argument about generations higher up. Indeed, "nique ta mère" ("screw your mother"), a rather explicit swear word, describing a very specific action, has now become a common insult in younger circles here in France. Its utterance can get a lot of youths angry. However when I hear it, I don't notice any agressivity in it, certainly because it doesn't belong to my generation.
And, this also brings me back to the tone/perpetrator argument: for instance, meaning becomes secondary when someone says "biaaatch", which for some unkonwn reason carries less agressivity than the straightforward "bitch".
And, this brings me back to the cultural argument: perhaps calling someong a "shithead" may be a compliment in some cultures.
Finally, all this about meaning makes me think about gestures, which contain no uttered words but are still considered "swearing/cursing" types (ie. such as "raising the middle finger", which does not carry any wording and thus no implicit meaning - although it could be argued that initially it did have something to do with sticking a finger where the Sun doesn't hit any photovoltaic arrays).
Overall I'd say that I don't have a fucking clue. But to quote Jean Yanne in the movie "Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est gentil", saying "fuck, dick, prick, crap" may be considered vulgar, but "selling cheap products by tricking people, using morality to abuse of people's trust, now that - that is not vulgar, that is obscene".