Friday, June 17, 2005

Don't Pardon My French

I do enjoy a good bad word. Profanity, spoken with discretion, is a valuable addition to a well-rounded vocabulary.

Of course, cursing can be a substitute for a good vocabulary. We've all heard cretins with potty mouths. That's not what I'm talking about. These words lose their power if overused.

But in the hands of a master, cussing enhances language. For instance, a good tirade benefits from a bit of punchy profanity. And don't get me started on expletives! They can be so satisfying. And never underestimate the shock value of an unexpected vulgarity. The shock can elicit a laugh or pack a visceral emotional punch.

Before we had children, my husband used to string the most famous four together into a compound cuss word. Children will cramp ones vocabulary because no one likes to hear bad words from the mouths of babes, but in the hands of a responsible adult, the right bad word can be the best choice for accurate expression, which is language's function to begin with.

There is only one four-letter word I will not use, nor tolerate in my presence. It's a displeasure I share with every woman I know. It's a nasty word, with no redeeming social value, derogatory to women, serving no useful purpose. It's a verbal crime on the order of a racial slur.

All our words are built from the same 26 letters, so what makes some vulgar and others not? Virtually every "bad" word has an acceptable synonym, so it's not the concept that's taboo, but the word itself.

It's the victors who write history. They also define language. In the English language, this happened in 1066, when William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel and forever changed the course of world affairs.

Bob Parsons explains:

It really started when the early French invaded Britain.
In 1066, the Normans (a "more civilized" people who resided in Normandy – which is now France), led by William the Conqueror, invaded Saxony (which is now England). On October 14, 1066, the Saxons were defeated by the Normans at the battle of Hastings and the Normans eventually took control of the entire country.

It was no longer cool to speak Saxon.
The Saxons were considered by the Normans to be a vulgar, crude and uncouth people. As a result, speaking Saxon eventually became looked down upon, and in some cases was even deemed illegal. The Saxon terms for basic human functions and sexual acts were considered especially inappropriate and remain that way to this very day.

Bob notes that the Japanese, having never been conquered, don't have bad words. On the one hand, I think that's nice. In theory, all words should have equal opportunities. So while it's a nice idea, I wouldn't want to speak there.

I like my words to color outside the lines on occasion.

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