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Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Students often ask us whether it's OK to curse in essays. We explain that we personally have no problem with profanity; indeed, Mother-of-Solipsist, despite (or perhaps because of) being a junior high school English teacher for some 20 years has one of the foulest mouths known to the English-speaking world. "Little Shit" (said affectionately) was one of her tamer nicknames for the Solipsist.

Our issue is not with the words themselves--there are no bad words--

[DIGRESSION: Actually, that's not true. "Pulchritude" is a bad word: A word that means "beauty" should not be so aesthetically unpleasing. EOD]

--only bad intentions. Our issue is with compositional laziness. Which is to say: One can certainly use scatological vocabulary, but only if those are the best words to use. They're often not.

While we're on the subject of profanity, though, can we have a moratorium on silly censorship? Time was that TV networks, when "bleeping" profanity, would actually "bleep" the profanity. Or they would dub in a less offensive word, so "shit" might become "shoot" (and the character's voice would generally shoot up an octave or two when he said it). More honest, and ultimately less annoying, were simple mutings of the offending word; these provided a "Mad Libs" sort of moment, wherein we the viewers could fill in the blank space with a profanity of our choice.

Over the years, though, this muting has gotten briefer and briefer. In the past, we might have heard a character say, "What the ____ is going on?!?" This gradually became something closer to, "What the ___k is going on?!?" Now, possibly because of the advent of reality-TV fare like "Rock of Love" or "The Jersey Shore"--in which some 50% of the dialogue could get one exiled from an Amish community--you're likely to hear something like, "What the f_ck is going on?!?" Apparently all the evil resides in the vowel.

Seriously, why bother? We all know what the characters are saying? Pro-censorship groups will claim that we are somehow "protecting children" by shielding them somewhat from exposure to vulgarity. But are young children really watching "The Jersey Shore"? And, if they are, isn't that the problem?

Would anyone argue that "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila"--even if scrubbed of all its profane language--is somehow more culturally acceptable than, say, "Glengarry Glen Ross"?

Fuck no!

"From Cee Lo Green to Pink, Speaking the Unspeakable"

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