Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Lament for the Oft Maligned Ignoble Art of Profanity

Strange as it may sound, I'm certain that I'm not the first to express the title sentiment. What happened? How did swearing in the English language fall to it's current state and how can it ever be made to recover? In today's English we have a fist full of 'swear' words with hundreds of variants; and that's it. Not only does this overuse of so precious few words limit us in our variety of speech, but the fact that no one digs down for that eternally creative human spirit that can achieve anything when it comes to swearing is really very sad.

Ever read Shōgun? Now there's some profanity; it gives new meaning to the phrase, 'swearing like a drunken sailor,' cause damn, those sailors can swear. (I just proved my point; 'damn' doesn't even register as a swear word to anyone.) I've been plowing through Aurturo Pérez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste series and he's so good at period cussing I had to pause the first few times I came across certain phrases. (e.g. 'S Blood! Short for Christ Blood!) Pérez-Reverte is hardly afraid of an f-bomb and when it's dropped, it hits hard. The effect is strengthened as no one word or phrase is overused as to become common place: less is more, by cutting back we can make our currently 'casual' swearing have the impact it should. It's a matter of how we swear in between f-bombs.

I'm just now getting around to the second season of The Boondocks, and there is some truly inspired material there, but it makes me sad to think this material is only used for comedic effect and will more than likely never find it's way into the argot of the equivalent of today's foul mouth sailors.

I'm taking a vow; a pledge for the rest of the year. I will wash my mouth out with soap should I allow myself fall back on the crutches of modern profanity in lieu of taking a second to think of something mildly original. I expect I'll over shoot my aims in the beginning as it will be new to me. The learning curve is steep, but the gains are greater still. I'm on a mission to expand the modern vernacular. Why would I burden myself with such an undertaking? Because if there is ever a time when words should mean something to speaker and all parties listening surely such a time is at it's peak when people feel the need for profanity.

Anyone else up to the challenge?

1 comment:

Marion said...

What a great challenge! There's a book--you can probably find it used--that gives lists of Elizabethan-era cursing. It's pretty fun. Might help you meet your goal.