I highly enjoyed this article on “F***: Why We Swear.” As some of you know, when I’m not in front of a classroom, I am one of the foremost artists in America working in the medium of profanity. I use the f-bomb in polite conversation the way some of you are addicted to “um” or “like” as a vocal pause. This article has a great exploration of the neurological and cultural reasons why we swear and why many people are still repelled by certain verbal/linguistic taboos.
My favorite quote from the piece?
For language lovers, the joys of swearing are not confined to the works of famous writers. We should pause to applaud the poetic genius who gave us the soldiers’ term for chipped beef on toast, shit on a shingle, and the male-to-male advisory for discretion in sexual matters, Keep your pecker in your pocket. Hats off, too, to the wordsmiths who thought up the indispensable pissing contest, crock of shit, pussy-whipped, and horse’s ass. Among those in the historical record, Lyndon Johnson had a certain way with words when it came to summing up the people he distrusted, including a Kennedy aide (“He wouldn’t know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel”), Gerald Ford (“He can’t fart and chew gum at the same time”), and J. Edgar Hoover (“I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in”).
When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy language himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.”
As I struggle with how to structure my talk coming up on November 8th, I primarily struggle with how much to make my language conform with proper classroom decorum, and how much to talk in my normal, out-of-the-classroom voice. Do I sound like “Dr. Rice” or more like something quite similar to Lewis Black? After all, if I was really giving my “last lecture”, I sure as hell wouldn’t worry about offending anyone. On the other hand, I’d still like to have my job on Friday…
Thoughts? Are YOU offended by salty language? And if so, why? Email or leave a comment, kplzthxbye.