Saturday, January 10, 2009

Vocabulary Worksheet

I've been thinking about language a little bit lately. Specifically profanity.

Let's start with the term (one, in fact, of the Seven Words George Carlin Couldn't Say On Television), "motherfucker." Think about that one for just a second. Consider that it could easily be a synonym for "father." Why is that so bad?

Further, why is that a negative, but "fatherfucker" isn't? This sounds sexist to me. And actually, it is, but the reason dates back centuries. "Motherfucker" is bad, because if somebody besides Dad is having sex with Mom, then the matter of who is going to inherit the property and titles comes into question. (And in the days when that mattered, men often had mistresses, so there's no negative definition attached to the "fatherfucker." You just didn't talk about it.)

For that matter, why is it, when somebody is trying to explain that your situation has gone downhill fast, do they tell you "You're screwed"? Why do they say that like it's a bad thing? Is there such a thing as a bad screw? I mean, outside of prison rape, I can't think of one, really.

I've had a reasonable amount of sex in my life, and, while not all of it was particularly memorable, I can't say that any of it was bad. So why is the word synonymous with everything going downhill?

For that matter, you'll notice that "pussy" is mostly used as a term for cowardice. There's definite sexism there, and I've got to say, it's also misleading. Some of the people with the biggest balls I've ever seen are women (another phrase that's not only sexist, but in this case, an anatomical impossibility - we definitely need to figure out a term for bravery that doesn't involve the sex organs).

For that matter, why is it that "having balls" is usually a good thing, but "being a dick" isn't? Aren't the two somewhat intimately connected? (Of course, if you think about it, it can take real balls to really be a dick, so there are times when it all comes together. So to speak.)

Pretty much anything involving "shit" is negative. Which is as it should be, in my opinion. On the other hand, while some people have very attractive asses, it's usually bad to be an ass. Not as bad as being a dick - slightly more playful. Less serious, let's say.

A real ass will frequently talk shit. Which is a metaphor that holds together beautifully - if, in fact, "beautifully" can be used in this particular context. However, you can also talk shit while you're being a dick, which doesn't work as well. And if you're being a pussy and you talk shit, wouldn't that lead to an infection that you really don't want?

Religion is frequently invoked as profanity - in fact, the original meaning of "profane" comes from the Latin term profanare (to desecrate), which stems in turn from pro fano (not allowed into the temple - pro, "out in front of" + fano, the ablative case of fanum, or "temple").

(Again, don't ever say I can't be educational.)

For the most part, though, religious terms are invoked as interjections ("Oh, God, here she comes again"), often more as emphasis ("Jesus Christ!") than as a descriptive - there is no profane form of "Christ-like." Two of the few religious terms that have adjectival or adverbial forms are "hell" (as in "hellish") or "God-damned" - and weirdly, some more spiritually-minded people take more offense to "Goddamned" in the adjectival than they do to "screwed" as a descriptive. (Which, I would guess, emphasizes more their belief in the Invisible Sky Person than their interest in sex - a sad state of affairs, in my opinion, but there it is. You get your pleasure where you can: mine doesn't tend to be found in a church, but I believe that a good bed should be venerated, at least a little bit...)

Now, here's a question for you: if you have your head up your own ass, you're being stupid. But if you have your head up somebody else's ass, it can be good for your career. It seems to me that the results of the two situations should be pretty much the same: you can't see, you can't hear, and let's not even talk about what you smell and taste. And why would somebody reward you for making them uncomfortable? At least, I'm pretty sure that I'd be uncomfortable, especially with some of the bowling ball skulls I've seen on some people.

Plus, if you can get your head up your own ass, shouldn't you get applause for being flexible, at least? I mean, there's better things to do with your time, but at least you've been working out, right?

I like some of the more imaginative terms in the field of profanity: "ass-hat" brings you back to that "head up somewhere it doesn't belong" concept, in a reasonably original way. "Fucknozzle" for that matter, is both a great anatomical metaphor, and has the added advantage that nobody else uses it. So at least you get points for surprise.

I guess my point is that people need to consider what they're saying. There's too much freedom in the English language for you to restrict yourself to the same seven tired terms.

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