Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What are Words For?

" Poppycock! Balderdash I say! Bugduggery I say! I think a good swear word, creatively placed shows mastery of the English language." ~ Craig Ferguson

I have to agree.

Once when I was visiting Donegal, I was telling a male cousin about this tourist from Manchester who'd been in town and trying for days to get me to visit his hotel room. I had said no & had been very rude, but every day he'd pop up wherever I was and try to chat me up. Finally the guy told me he'd had a vasectomy. I told him if he didn't leave me alone I'd pick up a chair and bash his F-ing skull open with it. He scurried off and never bothered me again. Apparently he was offended.

But my cousin was horrified by the fact that this man had tried to lure me with the vasectomy remark. Indeed, it was a new low in trying to pick up a woman, but... had I whipped out my F word too soon, I would have never gotten to hear the word vasectomy while on holiday, or the word my cousin uttered in while in shock.

Cousin: He said THAT? What a Bletherumskite!!!!

Me: What???

Cousin: Nothing, em, I meant to say he was... indecent!

Me: No-- what did you just say... leather-um-what???

Cousin: Nothing, nothing it's a terrible word, just slipped out, sorry, sorry...

It took me awhile to figure out he'd said Bletherumskite which was considered a truly filthy word in his home growing up. It's a word with several meanings, one being the lowest scummiest type of lying scoundrel there is. Much Worse than bastard, which everyone in town used with carefree abandon -- like when they were looking for something. "Well, I'm off to work --where's my bastard coat?" or "My bastard keys have gone missing again!" I once heard an old woman who'd been menaced and then stung by a wasp say: "I've no quarrel with bees, they're furry and they contribute -- but wasps are bastards!"

"The whole concept of the swear word is strange to me. You create words that are naughty to say and then you don't let yourself say them. It's pointless, it's like, alright, there's a collection of letters, put them together and that's the word that we must never say... What the hell is that? It's completely stupid and pointless." ~ Craig Ferguson

Imagine certain novels with no swear words. Wambaugh's latest is loaded with them --it would be unrealistic if he had tough cops and rough gang members swaggering through the pages being careful not to use a bad word.


Merle Sneed said...

Can you imagine a tough Wambaug cop saying, "You'll talk or else, by golly"?

R.L. Bourges said...

The Man from Manchester was offended? That breaks me heart. After he'd gone to the trouble of getting snipped and everything the better to harass with impunity, you threaten his skull with a four letter w-o-r-d?

An actual f-o-u-r letter w-o-r-d? Shaking me head in despair over you. (Actually, when I sent out my ten-pager paste-in to a literary agent yesterday, I realized my friend Jeneece uses the F*** one (and variants) with some abandon. So maybe my character offended the literary agent? Think of it. Maybe I should do a 'search' and replace all of her F*** words with 'fudge' or 'jeez' or 'gosh darn'.

Let me think on these things...

Fanny. Now there's a nasty one. Gosh darn, never catch me saying that fudging word out loud uh-uh.

Anonymous said...

Avid, the things my late Grandam used to say( in her old world Ukrainian ). I never learned them. Maybe that was a good thing. When I get real mad, I swear in German!

"What are words for? When no-one listens? What are words for? When no-one listens, there's no use talking at all!"-Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons ;)

JGH said...

Yeah, Missing Persons!! That's the song that popped into my head.

I feel sorry for kids these days - even the word "stupid" is not allowed as a swear. So of course they move on to the big ones way too soon.

One of my favorites is from the movie Elf "a cotton-headed ninnymuggins"

Barbara said...

I just file away BLETHERUMSKITE for the next appropriate moment. I learn so much reading Blogs!

Anonymous said...

Another odd-ball favourite was "Blathering Blatherskite", in which Fenton Drake would utter to change into his secret alter ego Gizmo Duck( hey it was the early '90's and I had to catch up on toons; having missed 5 years worth, while in the Navy ).

JGH if "stupid" is considered swearing, I think we're all in trouble. Waaaaaaaay back in jr. high, we had a kid taken to the principal's office for what was on his shirt: it stated "Damn, I'm good". He was forced to remove it and just sit there, whilst they called Mum or Dad to bring another( less offensive )shirt. Believe it!

Deborah Godin said...

Equally bad in my books (haha) are movies that have the dialogue re-recorded with "less offensive" substitutions, or worse yet just "blanked" or re-whatever the technical term is. Personally, I don't want to see De Niro and Pacino facing off with guns if they're not talkin' some bad smack.

Anonymous said...

Deborah G.I don't know if it's still on the market, but there was a VHS/DVD player that you could set up to edit out the violent parts of a film. Of course, this would shrink a movie like say, "Scarface", down to about, what, 5 minutes or so? Wonder if Avid's Kindle has an edit mode, such this for the baaad words, in a book?

Anonymous said...

I NEVER swear.

Actually that's not quite true...as a rule I don't but once, many moons ago when I was a student nurse, I was asked to assist a patient to unpack his belongings. He was blind drunk and swearing all over the place, effing this and effing that. After being sworn at like this for 15 minutes I told him to effing get into bed and go to sleep- it just slipped out- it was like his language had got into my head. And like a lamb, he did!

Sometimes only a swear word will do!

ps The Doctor was highly amused at my embarrassment and I didn't get the sac :)

Auntie, aka cagny said...

Hello Avid Rdr,
Funny, when I was growing up I traveled abroad. The first foreign words I would learn were the curse words.
Now I can't stand it to hear my junior high students curse. They curse in front of teachers.
I never did that when I was their age.

Anyways, I see you have the Kindle. I'm not sure how that works. Do you like it?

e said...

Hi Avid,

I was raised by a woman with a healthy vocabulary of swear words who could easily make a fleet of sailors blush. One of the first weapons I had as a kid against bullying miscreants was an expansive vocabulary of swear words, all used correctly, and with just the right emphasis. This horrified the parents of these kids and my teachers. My mother only laughed. When the words didn't stop people in their tracks, which was seldom, a well aimed crutch usually finished the job. This was only under extreme duress, however. I have never minded a well placed swear word or phrase in a book, poem, discussion or song, but as Auntie pointed out, their chronic overuse stifles our language and shows lack of imagination, especially when kids are trying to be "cool."

Avid, you're right. The taxing authority should just effing go bleep themselves and leave me alone. They would but the tax lady on my end made an error!!

I love the late George Carlin's bit about the seven words you can never say...

Do let us know about your Kindle. I've never had one, either. Thanks for visiting me today.

Anonymous said...

e, I was a sailor but so desensitised to swearing, that nothing surprises me( my Pop was even worse-I picked it up from him ).

Megan said...

The only time 'bastard' bothers me is when my elderly aunt and uncles use it - because they mean it in the true sense of the word...thank the GSD that the offspring probably doesn't pick up on it...


Now I'm going to go chew my bloody fingers to bits trying to figure out how to bring that subject up...

Marianna said...

Nice post!

This reminds me of something I learnt in the uni. It is so interesting to know the 'history' of a word, especially one that was not a swear-word and became one.

We have a word in Greek that it is not actually a swear but it is offensive for women (nowadays)...the word 'gomena' (it is kinda like saying somebody's b@#%^&h, or a woman with no brains--sorry for writing that here, it is for educational purposes :-).

What is interesting to know is that this word is actually the word 'woman' (altered, in pronounciation, by the Greek immigrants who arrived in the US back in the 1920s). Back then this word meant a free, independent woman...I wish it had kept its meaning today :-)

Take care
peace and love

tut-tut said...

Craig Ferguson has published a novel, by the way. I haven't read it, but my library has it.

My Classic Fiction Book List -Partial List

  • Austen, Jane: (Complete Works)
  • Balzac: Cousin Bette/ Eugenie Grandet / Cousin Pons
  • Best Russian Short Stories
  • Boyle, TC: Short Works
  • Brennan, Maeve : Short Works, 1 Novella
  • Bronte, Emily, Ann, Jane (Complete Works)
  • Brookner, Anita ( Complete Works)
  • Cather, Willa (Complete Works)
  • Chekov: Short Works
  • David Copperfield (Dickens)
  • Dickens:A Tale of Two Cities
  • Dickens:Great Expectations
  • Dickens:Nicholas Nickelby
  • Dickens:Our Mutual Friend
  • Dickens:The Old Curiosity Shop
  • Doyle, Roddy (some novels, memoir)
  • Drabble, Margaret (4 Novels)
  • Drieser, Theodore (Complete Works)
  • Fitzgerald, F.Scott (Most Novels & short works)
  • Hardy, Thomas (Complete Works)
  • Hemingway, Short stories
  • Hemingway: The Old Man in the Sea
  • Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises
  • Hugo: Les Miserables/Hunchback Of ND
  • James, Henry: Daisy Miller
  • James, Henry: In The Cage
  • James, Henry: Portrait of a Lady
  • James, Henry: The Golden Bowl
  • James, Henry: What Maisy Knew
  • James, Henry: Wings of a Dove
  • James, Henry:The Ambassadors
  • James, Henry; The Bostonians
  • Kerouac: Dharma Bums
  • Kerouac: On The Road
  • Kerouac: The Subterraneans
  • Kerouac: Tristessa
  • Lardner,Ring:Short Works
  • Larsen: Quicksand
  • Lewis, Sinclair: Arrowsmith
  • Lewis, Sinclair: Free Air
  • Lewis, Sinclair: Main Street
  • Lewis, Sinclair: The Job
  • MacGill, Patrick (Complete works)
  • Mackin, Walter (novels)
  • Maupassant: Short Works, novels
  • McGahern, John (novels of)
  • McNulty, John (Short Works)
  • Norris, Frank: McTeague
  • O'Brien, Edna (3 Novels)
  • O'Donnell, Paeder : Novels of
  • O. Henry
  • Potok, Chaim (4 novels/1 non fiction)
  • Salinger, JD : Nine Stories
  • Salinger: Franny & Zooey
  • Salinger: Raise High the Roofbeams
  • Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
  • Sinclair, Lewis: Dodsworth
  • Sinclair, Lewis: Elmer Gantry
  • Sinclair, Upton: King Coal
  • Sinclair, Upton: The Jungle
  • Steinbeck, John: Sweet Thursday
  • Steinbeck: Winter of our Discontent
  • Steinbeck: Cannery Row
  • Steinbeck: East of Eden
  • Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
  • Theroux, Paul (3 Novels )
  • Toibin, Colm: (Novels of)
  • Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
  • Tolstoy: Short Works
  • Turgenev (2 novels)
  • Twain: T Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi
  • Vonnegut: Early Works (1950s-60s)
  • Wharton, Edith: Novels of/Short Stories
  • Women & Fiction (Edit. Cahill)
  • Zola, Emile ( 10 novels)