Puritanism: as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” ( H.L. Mencken )
Fornication Under Consent of the King. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Fuckedandfarfromhome. The F-Bomb ….”How do you people really feel about doing it? Isn’t that about the dirtiest thing we could do to each other? I mean, it’s really not nice, doing it. What’s the worst thing you can say to anybody? “Fuck you, mister.” That’s really weird, because if I wanted to hurt you I should say, “Unfuck you, mister.” Because, “fuck you” is really nice, man. “Hello, Ma! It’s me! Yeah, I just got back, aw, fuck you, Ma! Sure, I mean it. Is Pop there? “Aw, Pop, my Pop, aw, fuck you, too, Pop.” ( Lenny Bruce )
There is a paradox of profanity. In a society that prides itself on freedom of expression, certain words pertaining to sex and excretion are off-limits. When it comes to political speech, we are living in a free-speech era that permits wide discretion. Late-night comedians can say rude things about their nation’s leaders that, in different contexts, would lead to imprisonment or death. Yet, when it comes to certain words for copulation and excretion, we still allow the might of the government to bear down on, and limit what people can say in public.
Swearing raises many other puzzles that are linguistic, neurobiological, literary and political; people have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics, that are totally ungrammatical such as Fuck you? And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly that means? Almost none of the proffered responses sems particularly compelling. The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries; Yet taboo words are powerful, since they can spark activity in the amygala, a part of the brain involved in storing emotionally salient memories.
GIMEANF …..”I wrote the song in ’65, and this was 1969; so the song was an underground smash global hit. even Pete Seeger recorded it in ’72 and no one would sell it it was so controversial, just the lyrics themselves, not with the cheer in front of it at all. But when I put the Fuck cheer in front of it, which we had invented, the band had invented months before and we were used to doing it then, it guaranteed that it was unplayable. Absolutely unplayable. Absolutely unplayable.”
Its a word that has a uniquely protean quality. It means almost anything, but also means the opposite. It is a bit mysterious and disquieting that a word describing the most exquisite pleasure can also express anger and hatred in equal measure. The conjunction is probably understandable. There are few issues, other than sex, which promise so much, yet often deliver so little or fail to meet expectations; or induce such well being yet be capable of arousing the sense of inferiority and guilt. While sex can be a source of mutual pleasure, it can also involve exploitation, disease, incest, jealousy, abuse and rape.
”While playing the Shaefer Beer Festival in New York City, Gary “Chicken” Hirsh got the great idea to change the “FISH” cheer to the “FUCK” cheer that night for the first time! We did. And the audience loved it. We were kicked off of the Shaefer Beer Festival for life and also paid to STAY OFF of the Ed Sullivan TV show which had paid us in advance for a future appearance. They said “keep the money but you will never be on the Ed Sullivan show.” Today it is sometimes stated that Country Joe and The Fish played on the Ed Sullivan show. This is because surviving records show our scheduled appearance but in fact we did not appear by their personal request.” ( Country Joe MacDonald )
Once, when Bono was accepting a prize on behalf of the group U2, his euphoria got the best of him, and he exclaimed, “This is really, really, fucking brilliant” on the air. the syntactic classification of curse words.Hardly a phrase, but certaily grammatically correct, and uttered by a born-again, totally pardonable. Proposed legislation at the time such as the ”The Clean Airwaves Act” assumed that fucking is a participial adjective. …
”But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between Drown the lazy cat and Drown the cat which is lazy. But Drown the fucking cat is certainly not interchangeable with Drown the cat which is fucking. If the fucking in fucking brilliant is to be assigned a traditional part of speech, it would be adverb, because it modifies an adjective and only adverbs can do that, as in truly bad, very nice, and really big. Yet “adverb” is the one grammatical category that Ose forgot to include in his list! As it happens, most expletives aren’t genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say That’s too fucking bad, you can’t say That’s too very bad. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.” ( Pinker )
”It made the left wing mad as hell; they didn’t really know what to do with this song because of the satire in it anyway. The Anti-War Movement, they loved it, the rank and file, but the leaders, the left-wing leaders themselves who were very puritanical actually, in a left-wing way,… when I put the Fuck Cheer in front of it and it came out , and millions of people saw it, I mean, that just guaranteed that I would never be a left-wing darling in my life. Never. Never. Which means that the Right Wing hated me now, and the Left Wing also hated me.” ( Country Joe MacDonald )
There are a bizarre number of different ways in which we swear. There is cathartic swearing, as when we cut our thumb along with the bread..There are imprecations, as when we offer advice to someone who has cut us off in traffic. There are vulgar terms for everyday things and activities. There are figures of speech that put obscene words to other uses, such as the barnyard epithet for insincerity, the army acronym snafu, and the gynecological-flagellative term for uxorial dominance. And then there are the adjective-like expletives that salt the speech and split the words of soldiers, teenagers, and Irish rock-stars.
But perhaps the greatest mystery is why politicians, editors, and much of the public care so much. Clearly, the fear and loathing are not triggered by the concepts themselves, because the organs and activities they name have hundreds of polite synonyms. Nor are they triggered by the words’ sounds, since many of them have respectable homonyms in names for animals, actions, and even people. Many people feel that profanity is self-evidently corrupting, especially to the young. This claim is made despite the fact that everyone is familiar with the words, including most children, and that no one has ever spelled out how the mere hearing of a word could corrupt one’s morals.
”The Establishment didn’t know what the fuck to do. Like, I saw Bowser from Sha Na Na like ten, fifteen years after the film came out, and he came up to interview me for some Rock and Roll thing he was doing. And he said that Sha Na Na, the whole group, thought that I was non-existent. That someone had created a Country Joe McDonald, and it was an act. You see? It was like a Tiny Tim act or something, like a shocking kind of a “Country Joe” suit that I put on and I came out there and did that … but that isn’t what happened at all, so, it made Country Joe like, I don’t know… like a living legend but also an asshole as far as the business was concerned. So it made me unbelievably famous. I mean I had the number one hit song, for the Viet Nam War era. The number one hit song as far as the Woodstock Festival was concerned. People have now said, most people have said that one of the greatest highlights of the film was yelling “FUCK!”. And singing that song, you know, which was not apparent at all.” ( Country Joe MacDonald )
The strange emotional power of swearing, as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures, suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain. However, the things that seem to make us cuss out loud, are also the things that seem to make us human.
”So to this day I haven’t sold quadruple-platinum copies of “Fixing To Die Rag”. Today you don’t hear it. So it just stuck me in a larger-than-life weird place, that forced me in the long run to deal with my role in the Viet Nam War and my military background and my political background, in a way that no one else from the Festival or the Generation has had to cope with. I have become a living symbol of the Viet Nam War, and now I’m a living symbol of not only the resistance to the Viet Nam War, but of the veterans themselves. And almost all the veterans have come to love that song.” ( Country Joe MacDonald )
And so it’s still today. Here we are, it’s 1999, and the song is really not,… the Woodstock version of that song is really not playable. In an era of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog, … (laughs from both) it’s unbelievable that Country Joe still strikes fear into the heart of program directors. …”Listen people, I do not know how you expect that we ever stop the war if you can not sing any better than that, it’s about 300,000 of you fuckers out there, I want you to start singing, come on.” ( Country Joe MacDonald, Woodstock )
Today, the emotional power of religious swearing may have dimmed, but the psychology behind it is still with us. Even a parent without an inkling of superstition would not say “I swear on the life of my child” lightly. The mere thought of murdering one’s child for ulterior gain is not just unpleasant; it should be unthinkable if one is a true parent, and every neuron of one’s brain should be programmed against it.
This literal unthinkability is the basis of the psychology of taboo in general, and it is the mindset that is tapped in swearing on something sacred, whether it be a religious trapping or a child’s life. And, thanks to the automatic nature of speech processing, the same sacred words that consecrate promises–the oath-binding sense of “swearing”–may be used to attract attention, to shock, or to inflict psychic pain on a listener–the dirty-word sense of “swearing.”
When Norman Mailer wrote his true-to-life novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, his compromise with the sensibilities of the day was to have soldiers use the pseudo-epithet fug. (When Dorothy Parker met him, she said, “So you’re the man who doesn’t know how to spell fuck.”) Sadly, this prissiness is not a thing of the past: Some public television stations today fear broadcasting Ken Burns’ documentary on World War II because of the salty language in his interviews with veterans. The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own.
Even when their characters are not soldiers, writers must sometimes let them swear in order to render human passion compellingly. In the film adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Enemies: A Love Story, a sweet Polish peasant girl has hidden a Jewish man in a hayloft during the Nazi occupation and becomes his doting wife when the war is over. When she confronts him over an affair he has been having, he loses control and slaps her in the face. Fighting back tears of rage, she looks him in the eye and says slowly, “I saved your life. I took the last bite of food out of my mouth and gave it to you in the hayloft. I carried out your shit!” No other word could convey the depth of her fury at his ingratitude.
”Newspapers continue to resist. Most use it only when one or two letters are replaced by asterisks. In a previous century, while writing a Globe and Mail column, I quoted Northrop Frye’s complaint, in his posthumously published journal, that his monumental work, The Great Code, was progressing slowly. He described its state with an unimprovable adjective, fuckedandfarfromhome. The managing editor ruled this permissible, since it was Frye. He was so eminent that the word was automatically cleansed when it fell in his shadow.” ( Fulford )
Last week produced another milestone. The New Republic, of all places, carried an essay on anger by Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer-winning reporter. Bissinger doesn’t like to be criticized. He explained that he takes four kinds of drugs and undergoes therapy to manage his anger. He also uses Twitter as a rage outlet. He deploys the f-bomb, as he calls it, and typically replies as follows to someone whose comments annoy him: “You, kind sir, go fuckly fuck yourself, you fuck of a fuckhead.” ( fulford )