Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Profanity in Books and Culture
I tried to read The Eyre Affair a year ago, but got tired of all the gratuitous swearing. I wondered if "normal" people really talk to each other like that (i.e. every other word a profane one.) It’s bewildering to me that the word touted as “dirtiest” when I was growing up has now become a part of popular slang. If you like someone or something you may use that ugly expletive to describe them!
I enjoy reading books on WWII history. Often there is less-than-pleasant language in them, but you would expect ugly words about an ugly subject. But in most fiction profanity is not only inessential to good story-telling, it is just plain distracting.
Comedian George Carlin died this week. I have never heard any of his comedy routines, but I know that in the 70’s he was arrested for his “Seven Things You Can Never Say on Television.” Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling (yes, it went all the way there) the act was ruled as “indecent, but not obscene”. It is my guess that you can probably say all seven words on television now, at least on cable. Carlin helped usher in a new level of indecency in our culture for which he was proud. What a sad legacy.
I receive Daily Writing Tips in my inbox every day and was intrigued by Monday’s article. The author was honest enough to express his dismay at having seen someone use the noun “pimp” in a positive sense. He wrote, “Pimps exploit, abuse, and degrade women. What kind of cultural perspective enables pimp to evolve into an inoffensive word?”
(I addressed this issue again in 2014 here.)