Danny Tyree: Is Profanity in the Ear of the Beholder?
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 29, 2020
In case you (expletives deleted) missed the marketing campaign, on January 5 the noble public servants at Netflix will launch a six-episode series, “History of Swear Words,” hosted by actor Nicholas Cage.
The “proudly profane” program will be supplemented with historians, cognitive scientists, lexicographers and etymology experts. (The latter should feel right at home, after years of hearing, “When are you going to quit &^%$ and get a &^%$ REAL job?”)
I find myself with mixed emotions as I navigate a world of prudes, “shock” junkies, auto-pilot “cuss like a sailor” conformists and opportunistic fence-straddlers.
Email newsletter signup
The decline of both history education and religious instruction has contributed to the cacophony of swear words. I suspect there are people who genuinely believe the Magi presented Joseph and Mary’s child with gifts of gold, frankincense and a MIDDLE INITIAL.
T-shirts, hedonistic songwriters, PG-13 movies and cable/streaming TV have accelerated the crudity agenda. When I was a lad, over-the-air programming was relatively tame; but now consumers insist, “If I have to PAY for the programming, I expect some ADULT CONTENT – i.e., pretty much the same stuff I used to hear in the junior high locker room for free.”
The more “groundbreaking, critically acclaimed” modern masterpieces I encounter, the more I’m convinced that if you set an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters, they would eventually… give up on ever typing enough “F-bombs” to fill the first 15 minutes of a cable TV show. (“He’s a shapeshifting, demon-possessed Venusian who becomes mayor of Podunk – but we’re KEEPIN’ IT REAL with the S-word.”)
Remember those Japanese soldiers who remained on combat alert in the jungles for years after World War II ended? Well, today we have straitlaced guardians who are valiantly holding the line against phrases that became commonplace in 1945. They like to embarrass ruffians by asking, “You kiss your momma with that mouth?” (Best response: “Yeah, and I hug my momma with the same hands I use in the men’s room. What’s your point?”)
It’s ironic that they sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” because they would SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST if they ever opened their King James Version Bible and saw the words used for bladder relief and sexual promiscuity.
“Minced oaths” was a term I ran across during my research. It means euphemistic expressions that alter or clip profane words to make them less objectionable. Who do indecisive people think they’re FOOLING with outbursts such as “sugar,” “fudge,” “goldarned” and “son of a biscuit eater”? What other scams do they hope to pull off? (“Yes, I coveted your wife and your donkey, but I had one eye covered, so it doesn’t count.”)
Thank goodness we have “polite society” to give us parameters for language. (Polite society: that’s where you hold out your pinkie to eat cucumber sandwiches as you collude to manufacture sneakers using slave labor.)
I give up. Our standards for forbidden words are maddeningly arbitrary. Most of the taboo words are of Germanic or Scandinavian origin. Latin-based languages such as French get away with murder. (Think of “derriere” and “manure” lording it over their ragged cousins from the trailer park.)
It’s like a Frenchman can get away with telling you, “I just ran over your dog and here’s a kick in the groin – but I brought snails and cheese. We good?”
Copyright 2020 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.