Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dirty Words

Usually when I get an idea for a blog, the words just flow.  If it's a struggle, I dump it and forget it.  That's what I intended to do with this blog about profanity.  The trouble is the idea kept nagging at me but I couldn't tie it down to anything manageable.  Whenever I thought about ugly words and dirty words my mind ran off in a hundred different directions.  Most of those ended up with the word sin and I did not want to go there.  Because well, I don't know.  Truthfully, I've given up trying to figure out what is and is not sinful.  Heck, I don't even know if sin city is sinful.  I do know the Bible says, "he that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is a sin."  That's good enough for me and I'll stick with that scripture.

But what about hurting others?  Everything from violence to just making fun of someone and hurting their feelings.  Surely that is a sin.  In my mind it is something worse.  It is evil.

So what about profanity?  Where does it fit?  What we think of as ugly and dirty words can and do hurt people's feelings and embarrass them.  But profane words are powerful.  They invoke an emotional response.  And that is what we writers need - that is what we crave.  Otherwise, neither we nor our reader is emotionally invested.  We might as well be writing a tech manual using dry and tasteless words.  There are some other tools at our disposal like description and imagery.  And when we can lift those pristine images from our muddy brains, it is a happy day.  But that creative process is far too rare to employ every time we write.  And sometimes even that is not adequate because there is another aspect to profanity.  Not only does it invoke an emotional response, it sets a mood and can be many things - frustration, rebellion, defiance, contempt - powerful feelings all and often
enough a combination of these.

Writers are left with a choice and I think this quote from "The Razor's Edge" applies.  "The path of a righteous man is hard and more difficult to walk than a razor's edge."  And that is what we want to be - righteous - but not in a religious sense.  Rather, in the way Google defines the word - morally right or justifiable.  So we have to flirt with danger.  We have to walk the razor's edge and hope we're right, justifiable at least, and maybe on some rare occasions even righteous.


Gorilla Bananas said...

Harry Hutton had a good swearing policy which he explained in his blog. I think it applies whether you're using the words humorously or for emotional impact.

David Oliver said...

Thanks for the link. I followed it and Harry is exactly right. I mentioned to my niece lately that I was seeing the "F" word used frequently everywhere. She shrugged and said, "oh it is nothing now."

But it is not that we don't have unspeakable words anymore. It is just that the names have changed.

ADRIAN said...

David, a good read. I'll be back when I've finished Fu...Adulterating photographs.

David Oliver said...

*laughing* Only you can call them that. I'll call them extraordinary.

Thank you.

Andrew Leon said...

I've come to think that what is sin is the most subjective thing there is in the world. Basically, if you think something it wrong, to you, that thing is a sin, and you shouldn't do it. God judges the intent of the heart, not the actual actions. Of course, in that, hurting other people is always wrong, so intent to hurt, in whatever capacity, is wrong.
The real issue in sin is how people will convince themselves that what they are doing is okay even when, deep down, they know they think whatever it is is wrong.

Of course, none of that really has to do with swearing and whether it's wrong or not.

David Oliver said...

Andrew, this, "how people will convince themselves that what they are doing is okay even when, deep down, they know they think whatever it is, is wrong" I have a real problem with.

Many doctrines and dogmas seek to control our actions by making us feel guilty "deep down" over something where no one is harmed. The action is simply contrary to doctrinal belief. I'm done with that and have been for many years. If there is no manifestation of evil, as far as I'm concerned, there is no harm, no foul, no sin.

Andrew Leon said...

Well, no, I meant specifically in relation to hurting other people. Like "it's okay for me to cheat on my spouse because ." Or "it's okay for me to tell this person because I'm just being honest." I wasn't talking about things like dancing (Southern Baptist, here) or drinking or whatever.
However, the point there is still if you think it's wrong, if you think you are committing a sin by doing it, then you shouldn't do it. It's like Paul talked to Peter about unclean food, some people just aren't there, yet.

David Oliver said...

Yes Andrew, now that I understand what you are saying I agree. Rationalizing or justifying things you want to do but know are wrong is jumping on that road to hell. And I am not talking literally here. I'm talking about the hell that people feel from guilt.

Carol Kilgore said...

Quite a thought-provoking post, David. I'm probably going to come back and read again, along with the comments.

David Oliver said...

Thanks Carol and please do come back if you can. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

troutbirder said...

I'm ok with effect of language for good positive reasons. But when I get angry and lose control... not good.

David Oliver said...

TB, I had not thought about that. Now that I am thinking about it, you are so right. Some of the ugliest episodes I have ever witnessed or been a part of have involved someone getting "cussed out."

It has been only a very few times that I lost my temper and did it but I regret every single episode except when I cussed out the raccoons. That I have made peace with. :)

mshatch said...

I like your definition of sin and I'm fine with profanity as long as it's appropriate. Of course defining appropriate is a whole other can of worms.

Should Fish More said...

Lots of different topics here, many more than just profanity, eh? Rationalization, for one. I know few people that can get through a day without at least one or two good ones....I oughta mow the lawn, but not sure if there's gas in the mower, maybe a nap instead. I should write Aunt Martha, um....I'll call her in a day or two. And, my personal fav, I should be tackling the basement, but it's such nice weather, I'm sure I'll get to it. Pretty harmless for the most part, until we get into the darker waters, and I think many of those are simple self-preservation, otherwise we'd have to face the unvarnished truth about ourselves. Few I know can hold up under that scrutiny and truthfulness.

Swearing and profanity.....I can't get wrapped around the axle about it, there are a few words that anger me, but mostly they've lost their impact. I used to be mildly upset about my daughter's potty mouthed ways, but they're both intelligent, good women. A generational thing somewhat. My son rarely uses a swear word, and he's the one you wouldn't want to get into a confrontation with.

Nice post, it's always fun to put the milk out and see if the cat licks it up.

cheers, David.

David Oliver said...

Thanks Mike. I like that about putting the milk out. I guess I didn't realize it but that's apparently what I am doing.

I tried to tie it down, keep it only about using profanity when writing. But it is indeed a slippery thing that, and very hard to hold on to.

David Oliver said...

Thank you.
Yes appropriate, that is the problem when you are wanting to interest and entertain a wide audience. And even if you want only to focus on a specific group, like some bloggers do - only family and friends - the internet has a way of reaching out.

As for me, I want to reach out as far as possible because people are really, very interesting. said...

Good conundrum (<-that's a great word, isn't it?). I used to curse quite a bit on my blog, actually. I've gone back and toned down my old writings. But I'm letting curse words fly in the novel I'm working on. Somehow that feels comfortable, necessary even, because of the point of view and all. So hell, I don't know, David. I think we should do whatever feels damn best under the circumstances.


David Oliver said...

Conundrum. I had not thought of that word in a long time. Yep. Great word. And for some reason it made me think of another good word - copacetic.

I think if would be great if we could do whatever feels damn best. You just can't always be absolutely, completely honest. You can't tell a mother her baby is ugly. You just can't and you shouldn't. So I think you always have to worry about your reader's feelings - at least when writing for the public in general. A novel is different. If I were attempting that, I would not hold back anything. Just like I don't back on my profanity blog, in fact I often enough go overboard. The difference is, I've notified people what they are getting into.

M said...

Words are words, I think, and only have as much power as we're willing to lend them. Some collective agreement or understanding has imbued some words with a taint . . . And this occurs in any and every language, it seems. These words mostly stem from what is considered vulgar or unmentionable, which makes them "impolite" by default. And then, as with anything that is shunned, a few people begin to use them for effect, either to shock or for emphasis . . . And now they are becoming so common as not to be that dirty any more. Or else we, as a society, are becoming more dirty. But that is another debate.

David Oliver said...

Oh yes, that is what happens and you have explained it very well. Thank you.

I don't believe that society is becoming more dirty. I do believe how we view and what words we view as dirty reflects society's beliefs. When I was a child the "n" word was not considered dirty. It was not even considered ugly. To be fair I grew up in a very racist environment so I don't have a true picture of that. Still the word has become much dirtier to the point it is considered unmentionable by many. A similar thing is true with the word queer depending on how it was used back then. I think as a society we have begun to think of biological functions and biological drives as less dirty - they are simply a natural thing. This to me is as it should be even though as a writer I can't help but regret the loss of their power.

The tendency for the insulting words to become more and more dirty is a very good thing. It shows that we are becoming more sensitive to other's feelings and thereby hopefully more accepting of our human differences.

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