Monday, September 05, 2005

Stop f**king swearing! You f**king swearing f**ker!

During my forced absence from the Blogosphere, I reverted back to my ground state of existence…that is to say, I watched a lot of TV.

One of my favourite shows is Penn and Teller’s ‘Bullshit’. Quite frankly, those two guys are my heroes. On top of being excellent magicians, they have the same outlook on life I do. For example, they were the first magicians to tell the Magic Circle to go to hell, and ‘exposed’ how magic tricks were done.

(As an aside, that’s something I find laughable. The magic community likes to represent themselves as some sort of secret society, hiding their ‘secrets’ as though following an ancient magicians code. When you realize you can buy the secret to any magic trick off the internet, it appears that their motto is "Secrecy at all costs!...Unless you pay us enough.)

Anyway, back to ‘Bullshit’, which leads me quite nicely into what today’s topic is about…swearing.

Their show on swearing was one of the most outrageous I’ve ever seen. Not due to the profanity content, but due to some people’s attitudes.

Now, to me, swearing is one of those things that’s perfectly fine, if the situation warrants it and if it’s used in moderation. Swearing has an actual purpose. It’s a very quick way to show just how strong your feelings are on a particular subject. For example, compare the following.

Jack Thompson is a flipping idiot.

Jack Thompson is a fucking moron.

Which shows my feelings about that fame-hungry asshole more?

Anyway, they showed a few people who were totally anti-swearing. Most of them, while I don’t particularly agree with them, I can respect. Too much profanity is a bad thing. They were saying, simply, ‘I get offended by people who swear a lot, many other people do to…so curb it, and show a little respect for people.’

That’s understandable. I can respect that.

I’ve cringed myself when I’ve been sitting on a bus, listening to two 12 year old girls saying: “So I fucking said to him, do you want to go to this fucking party on Friday fucking night? It should be a fucking laugh!”, "You fucking didn't!", "Yes I fucking did, so where the fuck do you wanna fucking go?"

With things like that, there’s just no need for it. Sure, swear all you want to your friends who don’t mind, but not on a crowded bus surrounded by strangers.

However, there was one woman on the show, that by the end, made me feel like doing a lot more than swearing.

She’s the head of her own anti-profanity activist group, which I think numbers entirely just her. She has her own website, has made T-Shirts, posters, the works.

At first she just seemed laughable, showing her ‘techniques’ to not use profanity. Her first great pearl of wisdom was her way to avoid ‘offensive hand signals’. She suggested when giving someone ‘the bird’ (IE the middle finger), don’t use that sign…use this one: Press a closed fist with the thumb extended against an opened palm. This apparently makes the shape of a turkey, so you’re literally giving them ‘the bird’.

What a pil of retarded, steaming, useless shit! To me this is the equivalent of saying “Don’t tell people to Fuck Off, write it down on a piece of paper and let them read it.”

I mean, surely, the offensive part of giving someone the bird is the meaning behind it, not the method in which it's expressed! If I told you the word 'Cluck' means 'Dick', then called you a 'cluck-head', wouldn't you be just as offended?

This was my first warning sign that this lady was off her rocker. Instead of just telling people to restrain themselves, and not be offensive, just give the same offensive message in a new and little known form.

Her second anti-swearing 'method' was using a word she learned from her father. I apologise to any Spanish speakers if I spell this wrong, because I’m just writing it phonetically. She said that, instead of swearing, she says “Santa Vacker”.

This follows the same pattern as the first example.

Said aloud, it sounds very similar to ‘Mother Fucker’, and she’s giving it the same meaning. Again, same old swear words, wrapped in a nice, pretty package.

Her 'movement' shouldn't come under the head of 'anti-profanity', it should be headed 'How to swear at people without them knowing.'

However, Penn and Teller gave another reason why this was more than just stupid:

‘Santa’ means ‘Saint’, and ‘Vacker’ means ‘Cow’. In other words, ‘Saint Cow’...meaning ‘Holy Cow’.

Now, a little known fact is that the term ‘Holy Cow’ is actually a derogatory phrase referring to the Hindu religion where cows are sacred. In other words, this woman telling people to say 'Santa Vacker' in order to not offend, is like a Hindu telling people to say "Jesus Christ".

In other words, not offensive to the person saying it, but probably incredibly offensive to some other people.

Now, at this point, I was willing to cut her some slack. Despite the fact that replacing swear words with more acceptable words is pretty much ridiculous (same offensive sentiment, nicer package...a gift wrapped turd is still a turd), not many people know that ‘Holy Cow’ is in any way offensive (before the show, I didn't)... and saying it in Spanish also gives her an ignorance buffer.

However, what she said next managed to make me expel about a gallon of red hot coffee out of my nose. It was possibly one of the most ridiculous, stupid, offensive, idiotic, retarded things I've ever heard.

Here’s a direct quote:

“I also say things like ‘Swear to Buddha’, because if I’m going to take deity’s name in vain, it might as well not be mine.”

Sorry that this will offend her fragile sensibilities, but ‘What in the flying fuck are you on about you daft, retarded old bitch?’

Apparently, this woman will throw a major hissy fit (she did on the show), if someone swears or takes the Christian God’s name in vain, but if you do exactly the same thing in another religion or language, it’s perfectly fine!

It’s amazing just how offensive an anti-profanity ‘activist’ can be.

Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous.

It became clear that this woman wasn’t trying to actual stop or reduce offensive language or profanity…she was just launching a campaign to stopping the rest of the world from offending her. Someone saying ‘Stop being offensive, period’, I can respect, but a woman saying “I reserve the right to offend any other religion or culture I choose, this is fine, but everyone stop offending me!” Is just plain fucking stupid.

I mean, this woman was one of the most offensive people I've ever come across. Other religions and cultures don't count, as long as no one says anything that offends her. Her whole stance seems to be:

1) Don't actually go to the effort of not being offensive, just wrap up swearing in a nicer package.
2) Be offensive to other religions and cultures, they don't count.

The whole exercise of trying to stop people swearing, or trying to alter everyone’s language to stop being offensive is just plain futile. Forgetting the whole swearing issue for a moment, trying to ‘preserve’ language is futile, stupid and unnecessary.

You see, language is a living thing, words are constantly being minted or falling out of use. The meanings of words are also always constantly changing. Quite simply, if a language stops changing it dies. It quickly becomes obsolete.

As an example, when I was growing up, the word ‘crap’ was a swearword. At the time it was as ‘strong’ as, and had the same meaning as the word ‘shit’. Over time, however, crap has become so mild, that it’s no longer even classified as a swearword. Today ‘crap’ simply means ‘stuff’, as in, ‘Wait a sec, there’s a whole bunch of crap in that box, see if it’s in there.”

You’d say crap to your grandmother without blinking.

The word ‘Shit’ is going down the same road. When I was a kid, if I said ‘Shit’ to my parents, my mother would literally wash my mouth out with soap. Now, it’s not nearly as strong, and has almostfallen into general usage. “Hang on a minute, let me get all my shit together and we can go.”

Now many people consider the widespread use of swearwords to be indicative of the downfall of morals. This simply isn’t true. Swear words losing their power has happened since language was invented. As a word is used more and more, it loses its power, falls into general usage, and new words take its place.

Take ‘Bitch’ for example. At one time it was major swearword. Today, plenty of women use the description ‘bitch’ as a badge of honor. It’s lost a lot of its negative connotations, and is today traveling towards being used more to describe a woman who is powerful and strong willed.

Swear words becoming commonplace has nothing to do with a 'downfall of morals'. Less than a hundred years ago, a woman could be arrested for indecent exposure for showing her ankles. That women wear shorts today, doesn't mean that they're any less 'moral' than women a hundred years ago. A hundred years ago, saying 'Damn' was the equivalent of saying 'fuck' today.

So what has this got to do with replacing current ‘strong’ swearwords with less offensive ones?

Okay, let’s just assume that tomorrow, everyone in every English speaking country decides to clean up their language and stop swearing. Now we, quite frankly, need swear words. They’re used to emphasise what we say. This is true whether we say ‘fucking’ or ‘flipping’. Also, a lot of the time, a ‘mild’ swearword just won’t do.

However, imagine that we’ve all given up using every single swearword in the dictionary.

All that would happen is, within a few months, words like ‘heck’ would become much stronger.

Within a short period of time, the word ‘heck’ becomes about as socially acceptable as the word ‘fuck’ is today. In other words, our mild swearwords like ‘crap’, ‘heck’ and ‘darn’ would become taboo, and would not be considered acceptable in polite conversation.

So what would happen then?

We’d invent some new ‘non-offensive’ swearwords to take their place and we’d be back at square one.

When you really boil it down to it’s simplest form, language and words are just sounds. They’re a particular range of tones that we’ve assigned a meaning to. Just because you change the sound, doesn’t mean the actual meaning has changed. Change one sequence of tones for another doesn’t change anything. Dying a black dog’s fur white, does not change its breed.

In other words, flipping someone off is flipping someone off...whether you use your middle finger or your whole hand.

We, as a society, decide what words are taboo and what words aren’t…what these words actually are is completely arbitrary.

To illustrate my point, going back to hand signals, in England sticking two fingers up at someone is the same as giving someone the middle finger in America. In America, sticking two fingers up at someone isn’t offensive in the slightest. It's just a cultural thing.

England decided that the V-sign is offensive, America didn't. The actual hand signal is abitrary. It's the sentiment behind the signal that's important...meaning changing the signal (or word) doesn't mean anything.

The funniest thing about the ‘V-sign’ is that no one can agree where it actually came from, or why it’s offensive. For example, I’ve heard the following explanations:

In medieval England, captured archers would have their index and middle fingers cut off, so they couldn't use a bow any more. The opposing side would show their middle and index fingers to say “Ha ha! You don’t have your fingers any more!”

Other people say the ‘V-Sign’ started during the second world war when Winston Churchill started using it to show ‘V for Victory’. British soldiers would give the V-sign to captured German POW’s…meaning “we’re victorious, you’ve lost, and we’re going to win the war.

In short, nobody knows where it came from, it’s just been decided that that particular gesture is offensive.

Other countries have different taboos. In Spain, holding your right arm straight out in front of you is the equivalent of an American middle finger, in Arab countries, showing the soles of your feet is considered an insult, as is showing the palm of your left hand in Indian countries.

Basically, the anti-profanity groups can suck my balls. Their 'methods' and 'techniques' are absolutely useless and futile.

If you're really that anti-swearing...stop swearing...don't just try to wrap it up in pretty's not fooling anyone.


Jezzy said...

Great post. When I see stupid people like that on TV, I feel like swearing at them.

Kato said...

I've always sorta felt swearing had it's place, if in moderation. I think it's stupid if used on cable or in a movie just to do it. But skillfully placed, it adds a lot to the power (or humor) of dialogue. Same is true in real life.

Plus, there is an art too it. I mean, at the right time, one can really capture a moment by expressing the perfect cuss. I mean, if a guy rattles off "Jesus-titty-fucking-Christ", you know he's got a damn good reason for it.

Paulius said...

Yep, I'm not 'pro-swearing' as in saying "Hey, grandma, you old whore! How the fuck are you doing!"...more "Pro-swearing in the appropriate place".

I skipped over comedians. Some comedians just swear for no reason, which adds nothing. Comedians like George Carlin can make 'comedic swearing' an artform.