Do You Feel Lucky?

(and feel free to comment! My older posts are certainly no less relevant to the burning concerns of the day.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Word About All The Profanity.



jeannette stgermain said...

What is your general "edgy-ness" about? When I read your poem Increasingly Longing I see another side...
Like to know who my "followers" are. So, I'm wondering why you became a follower of my blog? It's so... "different"? (chuckle).
I'll have to say, on my blog the sound of profanity is like scratching a nail on a blackboard. I have an allergic reaction to it, if you know what I mean.

dogimo said...

Hm. I'm not sure I have all that much edginess? I pretty much use this blog as a random transom-vent - no axes to grind or points to prove.

Which isn't to say I don't state any case I may have as well as I can. If you click the asterisk in this post, there's a pretty straight and sober explanation of why I believe as I do about profanity. The concept of profanity is harmful to a child's mind - and an adult's. Of course, I respect some of the wider aesthetic / etiquette issues! I'm not advocating "more profanity!" I'm advocating its demystification.

If I just started following you this morning, it was in response to that Crap Detective guy! I got a hoot out of the whole thing, and thought it would be interesting to try following each of those people who complained. Explore the possible common thread.

As to poems and sides - don't read too far into those'll see a lot of sides! Especially as I'm in the final push of trying to hit 365 for the year.

Thank you for the comment, jeannette!

dogimo said...

- and I hasten to add, I would never show up in someone else's space and start cussing! I try to gauge where I am, and observe the proprieties.

The problem I have with the concept of profanity - with the enshrinement of incantation above meaning - is something I believe strongly about. I believe strongly that nice people should not give morons special license to tweak them off with a magic word. I believe even more strongly that people should not strive to inculcate in young minds this same defect, this same vulnerability.

On one level, anyone who allows themselves to be offended by profanity has only themself to blame for giving the world the button to press. One set of syllables is not worse than another.

But on a more practical level: most people who do allow themselves to be hurt by profanity are nice people, and I would have to be a horrible jerk to go around hurting them just to make some mean, small point of my own about profanity.

jeannette stgermain said...

So, what do you think the possible common thread is of the people who got hit/reamed (whatever you call it) by Crap Detective? I'd like to know -it's a mystery to me.

Thanks for your thoughts on profanity - gives me a different window to look at it...
Am I missing a point here? Why is it so important to have 365 posts this year?
Hope you still have time to goof off in the sunshine:)

dogimo said...

I don't know yet, the common thread - there doesn't seem to be one so far. I'm still not too far into it, just clicked on this morning.

It's not important per se to hit 365, but a few months ago I noticed I was averaging better than a poem-a-day, and I thought, it'd be cool if I could hit that for the year. No reason.

I'm sure this comes across, but, most of these poems are fairly "off the cuff" - so they don't take much time! But some of them, I really do like. I'm happy if I write ten poems only to revisit later and really like 1 or 2 of them. That's a good ratio!

Jen said...

Hey, uh, "Joe." I read your argument where you say that allowing profanity to bother you is an intellectual weakness. It's an interesting arguement, but I'm not sure I agree with it. It seems to be based on the idea that socially defined things cannot be "real."

It's true that neither the meaning, nor the sound, of the word is what gives it its power. The power is socially defined. This does not mean that it's not real. Every language has words in it that people can use when they want to shock or hurt others, or to prove that they don't care about social conventions, or to titillate others by saying something that is normally forbidden. I don't think you're going to be able to get rid of this feature of language/society.

Call it superstition if you like (or however that word is spelled), but it's a integral part of being human.

dogimo said...

Hi, Jen! Apologies for not making myself clear - I'll try better! I don't want to get rid of profanity. I just want to point out the dangers, and the fact that we do have a choice in the matter. We ought to be responsible for the choices we make - especially for our children.

I agree 100% that the social aspect is "real." Humans being so deeply social, social realities are arguably the "realest" of all to us!

If I give profanity power over me, that is real power that I hand to anyone, to use against me any time, at their pleasure.

If I teach my children to give profanity power over their selves, that is real power. Power that I quite deliberately give to others, power over my children.

Now those are plain facts. The word itself - you've agreed with me - the sound, the syllables are harmless. These words derive their power from social consent. But we do have a choice in the matter. We don't have to buy in to that consent. We needen't hand a world of idiots the easy "Please Upset Me" button.

I am not trying to do away with profanity, or with its power. Certainly I disapprove of rude boors who deliberately shock and upset those folks who allow profanity such power over them. That's messed up - most of those folks are nice folks! It's never cool to get in someone else's space and just act offensive and hurtful on purpose. Even though those hurt are at fault - they allow some rude random idiot power over them! But just because they are responsible for their own weakness, doesn't mean they deserve to be deliberately hurt.

I hope that's a bit clearer. Thank you for asking, and providing me the occasion to hopefully clarify a point or two!

Jen said...

Hm. OK. I don't think you and I disagree about much. To clarify, when I said, "get rid of it," I did not think you wanted to get rid of the actual 4-letter words. My impression was that you were trying to demystify them by using them a lot. It was that effort that I think is doomed. Even if it succeeded, other forbidden words would rise to take their place and pack a similar emotional punch.

I agree that there's a sense in which no one can shock or hurt you unless you let them. (With words, that is. We are excluding assault.) However, we must remember that actually ALL words are powerful, because they are about the relations between people. I don't think it's necessarily a sign of weakness to have a certain reaction to a word's power. Even for someone who uses a lot of 4-letter words themselves, they can be upset when someone else curses at them, because what they are really responding to is the other person's intent to disrespect and degrade them.

This is not to say that we have no control over our own reactions. But just because one is shocked and offended does not mean one has to completely lose self-control, and fly into a rage, or cry, or something like that.

Regarding children, I agree that we should raise them in such a way that they do not lose all self-possession as soon as they hear someone curse. But of course they need to realize the social import of using language like that. It will help them not to use it themselves (or, if you like, to use it properly), and will help them to discern, when faced with someone cursing, whether that person is drunk, scared, angry, or just insecure, or one of many other options. They should not be oblivious to the fact that the cursing person is trying to use a word of power.

This comment is rambling in a first-draft kinda way. Sorry, I don't have time to edit it and make it tighter.

dogimo said...

"demystify them by using them a lot"? Well, I don't think I use profanity all that much! :-D I admire the strong effect words are capable of producing, so I try not to overuse any given word. I wouldn't want to demystify any word, or reduce its power by overuse.

My whole advocacy stance on this issue is because I hate to see folks of good will give folks of unkind will an easy, unearned advantage. There's no upside to it for anybody (except for the folks of unkind will).

So yes, I don't think we disagree much here, either. It's not a sign of weakness to let profanity bother you - it's not a sign, it's a specific weakness! No indicator of overall weakness, not a sign the person is a weak person in mind or otherwise. But yes, it is a weakness. Even in a person who is otherwise strong - yet they choose to carry this very specific, very particular, actual, real weakness.

I wouldn't say all words are powerful, rather, I'd say that meaning is what's powerful. Every verbal exchange involves meaning said, and meaning heard - with the goal in communication to be to make them match as closely as possible.

Now, I do have to quibble with you on "words of power" - persons tossing an "F" or "S" bomb into an aside are not (in my experience) generally attempting to "use a word of power." That sounds like something out of dungeons and dragons. :-) If someone is trying to insult, trying to be cruel - you're quite right that it is the intent to disrespect and degrade that upsets us! And we can gauge that sort of thing pretty readily, with or without cursewords. If anything, a person resorting to cussing to insult - that's a sign of a weak mind: nothing more cutting, specific, creative in the arsenal?

To me, there's nothing wrong with any of these words. They're excellent words when used properly (and yes, proper use can include insult - although I myself tend to go for the cutting specifics and eschew the cussing theatrics). I'm aware that certain strangers have a hangup, and I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings! So when I'm outside I humor the hangup. That's just common courtesy.

Children should be taught to be courteous, alert to context, sensitive to rudimentary matters of etiquette, and careful not to offend inadvertently. But they should also be taught that a word is a word is a word is a word, and that meaning matters more than a particular, arbitrary taboo that only certain people choose to revere, regarding this or that word.

Adults...should...well...adults ARE responsible for their own choices and reactions. There is no "should" involved. Adults need to grow up. Whether they're taking childish delight in causing upset with profanity, or taking childish offense at its mere appearance, adults need to grow up.

Jen said...

"use a word of power" - well, hopefully not D&D, I was thinking more along the lines of Lord of the Rings. ... Yes, I do like to make life more magical and interesting whenever possible ... not by turning to the occult, but by recognizing the magic already inherent in this world as created. In the words of the venerable G.K. Chesterton, "Grass grows because it is bewitched. Water flows downhill because it is bewitched."

dogimo said...

I don't necessarily shun the magical interpretation! I just want to point it out, when I see that ideas that are essentially magical are in operation. I agree about making life interesting. The idea of cursewords imbued with crackling, maleficent power is quite a darkly appealing image! A bit funny. It makes me want to throw a great black billowing cloak about my shoulders, clutch and swing my ebony walking stick and lower my coal-black top hat over my seething brow as I stalk down the street muttering explosive incantation after incantation: "shit. shit! shit, I'm late!"

Chesterton, on the other hand, could turn most any word into a word of power. :-) And make it look easy!