Published on June 15, 2007
OBSCENITY: A USER’S GUIDE: OBSCENITY: A USER’S GUIDE by Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don L. F. Nilsen INTRODUCTION: AN IRONY: INTRODUCTION: AN IRONY Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist, has noted the irony of Lenny Bruce being arrested in 1962 for using certain words on stage in San Francisco, while a couple of decades later, Meryl Streep used the same words in the movie Sophie’s Choice and won an Academy award. (Nilsen andamp; Nilsen 261) PROVOCATIVE SUBJECTS RELATE TO TABOO AREAS: PROVOCATIVE SUBJECTS RELATE TO TABOO AREAS TABOOS: BODY PARTS, BODY FUNCTIONS, DEATH, DEFORMITY, DIETY, ETHNICITY, MENTAL ILLNESS, POLITICS, RELIGION AND SEXUALITY THESE ARE THE TABOO SUBJECTS OF JOKERS AND OF TALK-SHOW HOSTS, WHO WANT TO PROVOKE, TO STIMULATE, AND TO TEST LIMITS DEFINITIONS: DEFINITIONS Oath: See 'Swearing' Obscenity: Offending a person’s sensibilities. What is offensive to one person may not be offensive to another Profanity: Not sacred, as in the phrase 'the sacred and the profane' Swearing: Calling upon Diety to help you in your cause Vulgarity: Related to the masses, as in 'Vulgar Latin' GEORGE CARLIN: GEORGE CARLIN George Carlin had a stand-up routine in which he talked about the words that were not allowed on television. This stand-up routine was later aired on H.B.O. THE MEANINGS OF SWEARWORDS: THE MEANINGS OF SWEARWORDS Swearwords mean everything. Therefore, they mean nothing. Something can be: as Hot as Hell as Cold as Hell as Noisy as Hell or as Quiet as Hell OK, is Hell hot or cold, noisy or quiet? Who the Hell knows? DISGUISED SWEAR WORDS 1: DISGUISED SWEAR WORDS 1 The d-word (d__n) The f-word (f__k) The p-word (p__s) The s-word (s__t) The bs-word (b s) All of these words *andamp;%#$@!^)?andlt;~!!! DISGUISED SWEAR WORDS 2: DISGUISED SWEAR WORDS 2 Bloody, Bull Shippers, By Gosh, By Golly Darn, Dang It Fudge, Frickin, Friggin Gosh, Golly, Gosh Darn Heck, Heck of a, Hades Jeezo, Jeez, Gee Whiz, Jiminy Crickets (swearing double), Cheese and Rice POed Shoot, SOB, Sun of a Gun, Lucky Sumanovitch (a TV wrestler) Zounds (God’s Wounds) CENSORSHIP 1: CENSORSHIP 1 As a humor scholar I was invited to join a talk-radio host to give a scholarly reaction to jokes being told by the listening audience. The radio station employed a very conservative screener to make sure that no obscenities were aired. However, the screener had not had enough experiences to catch the innuendos, and many obscene jokes were therefore aired. CENSORSHIP 2: CENSORSHIP 2 TRUE STORY: A guy had a filthy mouth. Because of this, he lost three different jobs. So he decided never to swear again, and established 'Swearaholics Anonymous' to help himself and others refrain from swearing. But the organization needed to be disbanded because of receiving so many obscene phone calls. CENSORSHIP 3: CENSORSHIP 3 UNTRUE STORY: A coed at an American university was protesting the war by carrying a sign that read 'Fuck the draft!' The college president told her she could carry the sign, but had to get rid of the obscenity. So she changed her sign to read 'Fuck the d***t!' CENSORSHIP 4: CENSORSHIP 4 A Danish Newspaper was concerned with self-sensorship, and sent out a call for the strongest kinds of political cartoons possible Some of the resulting cartoons depicted Mohammed supporting terrorism To Muslims, these cartoons were not funny. Muslims point out that they don’t make fun of Jesus and other Western religious figures. But they do make fun of capitalism, and some of them burn the American flag and effigies of President Bush. Do the Danish cartoons then represent reciprocity, or not? CATCHER IN THE RYE: CATCHER IN THE RYE In J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield dreams of playing in a patch of rye near a cliff. He must protect the children by catching them before they fall over the cliff. Part of his protection is to go into rest rooms and change all of the f-words to b-words (BOOK). AN UNSUBSTANTIATED RUMOR: AN UNSUBSTANTIATED RUMOR A Russian rumor has it that there used to be a satirical section of the KGB that was designed to publish jokes that were very critical of the Soviet Union. These critical jokes were published in order to diffuse the tense situation, with the understanding that the jokes would allow people to let off steam and they would not have to resort to physical violence. AMERICAN WORDS WHICH HAVE CHANGED: AMERICAN WORDS WHICH HAVE CHANGED bitch butt fanny gay pissant tinker’s dam FOREIGN WORDS THAT CAN BE OBSCENE IN ENGLISH: FOREIGN WORDS THAT CAN BE OBSCENE IN ENGLISH derriere fag or faggot Grand Tetons Mountain Range solicitor to knock someone up NOTE: Refined foreign students discussing American slang often don’t realize the power of American obscenities TOILET HUMOR: A RIDDLE: TOILET HUMOR: A RIDDLE What does a man do standing up, a woman sitting down, and a dog on three legs? Shake hands. (Nilsen andamp; Nilsen 261) WOMEN VS. MEN: WOMEN VS. MEN Swear words (and other Labels of Primary Potency such as ethnic slurs) are powerful. In the past, such words have been used more by men than by women. Could it be that this is one of the reasons that men are perceived as stronger? Is this difference changing? !FAHRENHEIT 451: !FAHRENHEIT 451 John Olster is a junior high school teacher who uses Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In April of 1997, he wrote a letter to English Journal saying that he was using this book in his 8th grade class. Slide20: !! Oster was having students read passages in class, but whenever the students came to a passage with damn in it, the students didn’t say the word. Oster assumed that the students were uncomfortable with swearing and were just skipping this swear word. Slide21: !!! After the students had taken turns reading, the Mr. Oster, the teacher, decided to take a turn and his passage contained damn, hell, and bastard. The students said, 'Where are you getting those words? They aren’t in our text.' Oster finally assumed that the paperback publisher had probably deleted the swear words so as not to lose sales to a school whose selection committee might disapprove of the swear words. In a novel about censorship, this was the ultimate irony. (Nilsen andamp; Nilsen 66-67) Slide22: References: Foerstel, Herbert N. Banned in the U.S.A.: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994. Hentoff, Nat. Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1992. Nilsen, Alleen Pace. 'Labels of Primary Potency.' in Living Language: Reading, Thinking and Writing New York, NY: Allyn and Bacon, 1999, 145-193. Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000. Wajnryb, Ruth. Expletive Deleted $andamp;#@*!: A Good Look at Bad Language. New York, NY: Free Press/Simon and Schuster, 2005.