Vulgar language

Dirty Talking

By —— Bio and Archives--October 18, 2007

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The two teenage girls in the seat behind me on the bus were discussing the shortcomings of their supervisor at the burger joint. “The bottom line is,” said one of them, without even trying to lower her voice, ” he’s a &%##@ son-of-a-#.”


The middle-aged woman seated next to me rolled her eyes as if to say, that’s today’s kids for you. “Imagine” she said, addressing me, “my mother once threatened to wash my mouth out with soap just for saying #. The incident on the bus that morning got me to thinking about the casual use and acceptance of vulgar, obscene and profane speech in our everyday conversations.

I know people who can’t complete a sentence without peppering it with foul language. Teenagers,  of course think it’s real cool to shock adults by using dirty words. Even the pre-teens get a kick out of repeating the bad language they hear the older ones use. Those of a certain age will remember the commotion created by the movie The Moon Is Blue, because it contained such shocking words as virgin and mistress. And nearly everyone who knows anything about movie lore knows that Gone With the Wind was condemned from pulpits, and almost banned because Rhett Butler told Scarlet O’Hara that he didn’t give a Damn! We’ve sure come a long way since then..

There is a story, probably apocryphal, about a schoolteacher who glossed over the fact that her little charges were writing bad words on the blackboard whenever her back was turned by noting that at least they were learning to write, and that their spelling was pretty good. This story illustrates just how low we have allowed our standard of civilized discourse to fall. The words bastard and #, while not profane or obscene, or even vulgar when used in the proper context, were, until recently, considered too shocking for a family newspaper. No more. In fact these words are now so commonplace they are the wimps on the coarse-language scale. Words considered offensive in one culture can be quite innocuous in another. For instance, a few years ago, a character in the comic strip The Wizard of Id called the king a “bugger”.

The Canadian papers changed the word to beggar, because “bugger” was considered vulgar in Canada at that time. Take the word bollix as another example: It only means to foul something up, but it’s a dirty word in the British Isles because it is often used for bollocks, which, for some reason, they consider a very dirty word for testicles.

A long time ago, a lot of minor dirty words were cut out of British movies in the U.S. A word like #, for instance, meant a donkey in Britain—before it became Americanized—and it was commonplace to call someone a silly #. On the other side of the coin, the word fanny was clipped from American movies in Britain because over there it is a vulgar word for vagina. In the index of dirty words, however, the F word has always been considered the most shocking obscenity in every English speaking country.

When Norman Mailer’s bestseller The Naked And The Dead was first published, it had all the F words spelled fug. This prompted Truman Capote to joke that Mailer was such a lousy writer he couldn’t even spell f*** . While it is still not acceptable in polite company, the F word is used ad-nauseam in today’s movies and evening daily newspapers, and has lost much of its shock value in everyday speech.

Try telling today’s teenagers that not that long ago you could be arrested for using the words that many of them now flaunt on their tee shirts. On the other hand, who would have thought that the word mother could ever be used as an obscenity?

The up side to this flood of dirty talking is that we won’t have to worry about the kids of the future using dirty language because as vulgar and obscene words become more commonplace there won’t be any dirty words left for them to use.


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William Bedford -- Bio and Archives | Comments

CFP “Poet in Residence” William Bedford was born in Dublin, Ireland, but has lived in Toronto for most of his life.  His poems and articles have been published in many Canadian journals and in some American publications.

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