*The following contains some strong language, because duh.
There is a sort-of-a-kind-of-a-thing that I like on Facebook (And here I’m using the newer, Facebook sense of the word ‘like’ which is “to subscribe to” rather than the more traditional “to find agreeable”, though both may be applicable) called Word Porn. It pops-up in my news feed with delightful quotes and obscure lexical treasures, like ‘Retrouvaille’ and ‘Eutony’.
On occasion whatever magical elf that runs the thing asks its followers what their favorite words are. Most of the time the answers to this question are either the longest words people can think of or ones that have beautiful or poetic meanings. But since human beings tend to behave in exactly the sort of way you might expect them to, a good number of individuals seize upon these moment to air out some of their favorite swear words. And since human beings tend to behave in exactly the sort of way you might expect them to, invariably some high minded individual will chastise these avowed dirty word lovers for their lack of nuance or apparent philistinisitude (Yeah I just made up that word, come at me bro!).
Normally I scroll through this comment conversation with the pleased sense of smugness awarded to the internet lurker who judges but does not sully herself by involvement. However in the last incarnation of this familiar play there was a comment so rank with pseudo-intellectualism that I had to rebut this random stranger, and I’ve elected to do so in the healthiest way I know how; on my blog, where she’ll never see it, to some other random strangers.
The comment read as follows;
“I actually read through the favorite word submissions given here by others looking for inspiration and love for the English language, but I’m sad to say that most of the word choices are so ignorant and ghetto. The wise do separate themselves from the common folk.”
I know, right? How awful is that?
Granted I have not had a very long or eventful life so I’m not as wise as say, Stephen Fry, but I do at least feel that I have made enough of an ass of myself in my short quarter century to be able to pass on the lesson; ‘be careful how you swing around your superiority stick’. I question how any one internet patron can own with such complete authority the title of wise and damn so indiscriminately us common folk just because we fucking love our four letter words. (Not to mention the pairing of ignorant and ghetto so close together in one sentence makes me a little queasy.)
What wise people separate themselves from the common folk? Chaucer? Shakespeare? James Joyce? When did wrapping yourself in ‘I’m better than you’ bubble wrap become the sign of a great mind? I would argue that the most brilliant and important artist in our history have always been the ones that not only embraced the common man but went bravely into that frontier of slang. Slang is the Wild West of language, where language is at its most innovative and vibrant.
Language is alive. As people use it they change it. That’s how it’s supposed to work, language does not exist separate to our utility. What I mean is, language is not a solid, there is no pure refined form. It evolved as we evolved. It did not emerge fully formed from the head of Zeus or some shit like that. So try as we might to catalogue and contain it, it is not in the nature of language to remain still. In fact a dead language is not defined as a language that people have ceased to speak, a dead language is a language that has ceased to change.
So this high-minded attitude of my random commenter can’t be, I think, justly claimed as for the love of language. Play is important to the survival of a language. Play which is informal and bends or breaks the rules keeps the language dynamic. If you don’t play with language you don’t create language. If you’re not creating language you’re letting it die. You don’t love something by making it stagnate and die. You don’t love language if you don’t love, or at least accept, word play, and word play gets vulgar.
“But Jo” I hear you say, “All righty, maybe word play and slang are coolio. But what the frick do you mean by saying f-bombs are okie-dokie?” (Cause in my mind that is how you talk.)
I’ll tell you why for I’m defending the dirty word lovers, because I despise sanctimony. Now, I don’t want to attack people who sincerely believe in abstaining from language or ideas that they believe to be impure, that’s fine, to each his own. But I do want to attack that sort of weaponized morality which people use to characterize anyone that doesn’t follow a certain standard of behavior as beneath them. The sort of people who restrain themselves from the affectations of an impure life because they think it earns them a seat of judgment. The surface obsessed, niggling, pedants, who’s no swearing, no drinking, no drug taking, or fun having, lifestyles has endowed them with a certain set of superiority super powers. With their magical fingers they go about pointing at things and tutting, rendering everything in their paths that they don’t happen to agree with shameful, and at the same time raising themselves up to a god-like stature.
If you find it so easy to parse out the world into piles of good and bad I doubt not only your judgment but your sanity. I’m not convinced that what is truly sacred can be monopolized by followers of this fake it till you make it philosophy, because for all their asceticism they are still human beings. There is a large difference between holding yourself up to a certain standard and holding the world up to a set of standards that you’re more or less making up as you go along.
But morality aside, it can’t be denied that dirty words have a visceral power. They have versatility and genuine strength, but they’re also just fun. They’re fun to say. They’re fun to play with. Fuck has ceased to mean strictly intercourse (“Intercourse the penguin!”). Fuck is good, bad, or indifferent, but it’s never weak. Fuck is an all-purpose intensifier. Fuck shouldn’t be the only word in your vocabulary but I don’t see the harm in giving it pride of place, it fucking deserves it.
There is only one real purpose for a comment like this. It might as well have read, “I’m smart and you’re dumb.” But that’s the problem with elitists. Once you declare yourself superior you lose scope of the things you’ve declared inferior. You limit yourself so much in the experiences you can have and the knowledge you can gain. If dirty words are beneath you then so is Slaughter House Five, Catcher in the Rye, and The Grapes of Wrath. Not to mention Howl. I mean, really? You think you’re better than Howl?
Look at it this way, Monet is not the only artist. Art is not exclusively that which is beautiful or pleasant to look at. Art is powerful. Art reaches beneath the surface level and pulls out all those unattainable, intangible, things buried deep in your chest then lays them all out on the table in front of you. Because of this art can’t be satisfied with only nice things. It has to go out and explore. People who create art with language can’t ignore the massive part of us that fucks and shits.
What I’m getting at here is, No. No lady you don’t love language. You love the tiny portion of language that makes you feel safe, smart, and comfortable. You love language’s arm or maybe even just its elbow. You don’t love the untamed language. You can’t if you think it is “wise” to separate yourself from the common or the vulgar or even the ignorant. Because language is everyone’s, not just yours. Read Pope and only Pope if that is what satisfies you, but don’t try to pass off your love as superior because actually you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.