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...a piece of @&%#!

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...a piece of @&%#!

Postby Some Guy Here » Thu Jan 10, 2008 4:39 am

Swearing is a funny thing nowadays. The old bromide is that "everyone does it." Take a tour around an average high school (or middle school) and you'll see (or rather hear) my point. YouTube and blogs are filled with it. TV shows are filled with it (with intermittent "bleeps" accounting for half the dialog on "edgier" shows and even fairly mild shows featuring uncensored language that would shock audiences 30 years ago). Take a walk in the park and your ears might feel the assault of one-word descriptions related to bowl movement and fornication.

Of course, like any form of language, swearing has a point - it's meant to communicate an idea, and swearing does it effectively and immediately. In the course of a single word, one can express extreme frustration, anger, disgust, and a myriad of other implied details. On YouTube, in blogs, and in general causal culture, swearing has become a part of the fabric of language - addressing the absurdity of a situation or topic. In TV shows, it expresses likewise, and delivers to the audience the mindset of the character, another window into that character's heart. In other words, swearing has its uses.

But if a thing's usefulness is ignored, what's the point? It becomes gratuitous, like using a sledge hammer to install tile. About an hour and 15 minutes ago, enjoying my late-night geekdom watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on Spike, a commercial aired for a local car dealership. Nothing fancy or outstanding, just the owner standing around his showroom talking touting all his low or no credit incentives. Your typical cheesy, sleazy kind of car commercial that you'd find at this time of night. In the middle of endless pan sweeps of equally endless seas of late-model Mustangs and promises of 0% financing, a jarring blast interrupted the myopia: "Tired of driving around in a piece of @&%#?" No punch line, no lead-up, just straight up. A bleep and a red "X" covering the offending orifice.

It was an absurd, surreal moment - ironically in how normal and casual it was. Right there with nothing else attached. Yet it seemed out of the ordinary. It made me feel...uncomfortable. YouTube and even television is one thing, but in a commercial for a local car dealership, with no lead up, entirely "out of character," you're doing to declare your audience to get out of their piece of @&!#? This is the type of thing that brings an already sleazy purveyor down to the level of "no class." Dumbing down to your audience to hawk your wares is one thing, but it's a delicate art where many have been burned, and you never commit the cardinal mistake of admitting it. I don't care if you use your cutesy bleeps and and x's across your mouth, but swearing in a commercial like that is tantamount to such an admission.

In other words: grow up and show some @!%# class, Mr. Car Salesguy.
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In defense of swearing!

Postby fluffytufts » Sat Jan 12, 2008 1:47 pm

I agree with you that cursing has its definite uses. I think it’s a shame how we disregard out-of-hand perfectly good, descriptive words, some with lengthier pedigrees than most know, simply because someone somewhere decided their usage was impolite. Consider that many of the words we now think offensive are old Anglo-Saxon, Old French, or one of the various Old German dialects. Many are derived further back from Latin (pissiare for example - wanna guess what that means?) and even earlier to the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European. A few examples:

Everyone’s favorite, sh*t, is from the Old English scitan, and ultimately (via Latin) from Proto-Indo-European skheid. A common word up until the 1600’s, it simply meant “excrement.”

The infamous “c” word started as a descriptive word for a specific female body part, but has been considered obscene since at least the 1600’s as well. It traces its origins from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic to Middle English.

B*tch is derived from Old English bicce, meaning, of course, female dog, fox or wolf, but considered rude starting sometime in the 15th century.

My point is that these words had everyday uses until at some point it was decided otherwise. Why? Well, I’ve always thought that the continued use of Anglo-Saxon after the Norman Invasion’s introduction of French likely came to mark one out as belonging to the defeated, thus lower class and contemptible. The language of the English court was French for at least a century and a half after 1066, and if you weren’t using it, you weren’t, well, scitan. That attitude toward “common” or “base” language remained, even after Early Modern English as a national language finally came into its own in the late 15th century. Of course, what was regarded as unfit at court and in literary circles was by no means so on the streets. The average man and woman, who vastly outnumbered the gentry and literati, still spoke like the peasants they were. Thank goodness.

So anyway - there goes Anglo-Saxon and its treasure-trove of fun, descriptive words: shunted aside to make room for “civilized” Norman French. It’s not really all that simple, but my point is what’s rude as opposed to merely descriptive is arbitrary from a historical standpoint. In today’s world of instant, global communication, meanings change within less than a generation. For example, since at least the 13th century “faggot” meant “a bundle of sticks” (Latin fascis), but somewhere in the early 20th century became a pejorative word describing homosexual men. Its earlier meaning is pretty much scrapped, and when compared to the centuries of use it enjoyed up until then, it apparently happened just like that.

Now, I can’t say I condone that car dealership’s blatant use of the scatological, but you’ve got to consider the source: sleazy used car dealers cast their nets to the lowest common denominator – peasants. Speaking the lingua Franca of your (presumed) audience is the same as fishing where the fish are. And you can bet you life some people out there saw that ad, laughed, and went down and bought a car the next day. Probably the same people who elected Bush. Twice.
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