What's on my mind.

02 January 2009

Curse the Darkness

Some thing I saw of TV the other night got me thinking about “curse” words. I understand the religious prohibition on blasphemy. Not necessarily the specifics – was stoning really necessary for speaking the secret name of God? – but the general rule I can deal with and vaguely understand. I can understand not using ‘damn’ as a general swear word unless you really mean you think that thing/person/rule/whatever should be sent to hell. I have even, unsuccessfully, toyed with not damning things lightly. What I don’t get is why other ‘four-letter words’ that have no religious connotations are also usually considered wrong to use by the religious and culturally are less polite than the religious ones (in the US at least). Now ‘fuck’, ‘shit’, and ‘ass’ are generally considered impolite ways to refer to sexual intercourse, feces, and one’s backside* and their derivatives, which may or may not have anything to do with the original meaning, are equally vulgar. One should certainly be mindful of one’s company when using these words. But, why do the religious care about them? They aren’t blasphemy – no taking of God’s name in vain, no casual damning of innocent inanimate objects.

The seven words you can’t say on TV are becoming more and more socially acceptable. One day you may even be able to say them on mainstream TV, at least in fleeting usages or, of course, in culturally appropriate situations^.As the “younger” generations work their way up into positions of power in the FCC things will change, slowly, if we can ever get the religious fanatics to shut up long enough to understand the difference between blasphemy and vulgarity.

This leads me to a tangent**: You may recall the wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl half-time a few years ago. Shortly after this, and the resulting kerfuffle, I heard a father commenting (a letter to Morning Edition perhaps?) that the SB is family entertainment and he didn’t appreciate his young sons being exposed to a nipple. I’d been watching that half-time show. Personally, if I were going to be offended by a brief flash of female bits I would have been doubly offended by the half-time show. Based on the comment of that father, dry-humping one another while wearing little more than a bikini is OK but the human body is bad. (I may be mixing my half-times up. The scantily clad, practically stripping dancers may have been another year.) Consistency anyone?

*Ass is perfectly acceptable if referring to a donkey, even in church.
^ This is why it’s OK that ‘fuck’ appears in every other sentence in Saving Private Ryan but it has to be beeped out of an Emmy acceptance speech.
**This is not particularly timely, I know.But we will be subjected to dubious singing and dancing during the Super Bowl half-time again soon.


Sarah, etc. said...

I read an interesting essay a while back about swearing as a visceral reaction which reinforces how much you DON'T want something to happen, or how far you want to be away from it, or how much you want it to be away from you, etc. It was related to physical/mental proximity. Anyway, it posited that, until fairly recently, most swears were based on religious ideas (damn, etc.) and waste products (shit, etc.). Prior to the 19th century or so, eternal damnation was the ultimate threat, but on a vulgarity level, the most deadly thing around was waste, which bred disease. So by invoking waste/disease, you were emphatically saying that you wanted the situation/person/whatever to end/go away/whatever, because it meant death. Moving on, and especially since the 20th century, we've got a handle on waste-born diseases but not so much sex-borne diseases. Our swears have altered on par. Fuck is now more common than shit, if you will.

Interesting thoughts!

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