I recently had someone tell me that there was too much swearing in my blog. It’s not that they were personally offended; it’s just that they felt as if I was going to lose people that might otherwise agree with me through the use of vulgar language. It’s a valid point. They are in good company. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus the narrator makes basically the same claim. Morrissey, known to wield the poison pen with ease, almost never swears. In fact when he used the word shit on his You Are the Quarry album, I was actually taken aback.
I’ve always had an affinity for swearing. I believe the Larry David maxim that something is always funnier with the word fuck thrown in. Maybe I’m just being juvenile. But while I don’t think swearing necessarily shows intelligence, I don’t believe it negates it either.
George Carlin is famous for his Seven Dirty Words skit. He has also talked about how words are words and nothing more. Society tries to stop some words from being said as a way to control people. It’s always the lower class words that are the ones that the censors have a problem with. You can say that someone is having sexual intercourse with someone in polite company, but you can’t say someone was fucking. Both those terms in that context have the exact same meaning. People deem one acceptable, and the other unacceptable. Why?
I am a huge fan of the show Deadwood. Deadwood is a western. Its language is a mix of high minded Victorian language mixed with an incredible amount of swearing. It’s the Shakespeare of our time. It just happens to have a lot of fucks in it. The creator David Milch is probably one of the most interesting people to hear talk on the use of language. He talks about how in a mining camp like Deadwood that was illegally on Indian land, there were a lot of shady people. You might not want to walk up to someone and say, “What’s your name and how are you doing?” They might take it as you were a Pinkerton or a law enforcement official. They might answer with a, “Who are you and why the hell do you wanna know?” A scuffle might ensue. Instead the simplest thing might be to walk up to someone with a shrug and say, “Fucking A.” To which the reply, also with a shrug, would be a, “Fucking A”, back. With those few words they have communicated to each other hello, how are you doing, I’m all right, and I don’t want to get into any of your personal business. So much can be said with so little.
At the end of the day language is merely a tool to communicate something. There is a place for flowery poetic language, and there is a place for language that is brutish and vulgar. All that matters is if the idea that you intend gets across. Different places require different sets of tools.
There are also a lot of euphemisms in our country. Euphemisms allow us to do horrible things and put a nice spin on them. Someone in the military might say that a target is neutralized. What is meant by that is that someone got fucking killed. We also might say that there has been a surgical strike. That means a fucking bomb has been dropped on someone. I think in those instances the vulgar gets across the idea of what actually happened way more than the nice clean language that has become the norm. When you are doing barbaric things to people it is much better to be honest and use barbaric language.
I would like to close with a comparison of two different lines. One of them is from the show Deadwood, and actually doesn’t feature swearing. The town saloon owner, Al Swearegen, sees the local sheriff, Seth Bullock, walking by and calls down to him from his balcony: “Quick trick suck Bullock? Sally forth through the days events with unencumbered thoughts?” What this means is do you want to get sucked off by a whore and put your mind at ease. Or someone could say to someone else: “I fucking love your shit.” Only one of those two things would pass the test of the censors on mainstream television, but only one of them conveys the positive emotion love.