The English language is really quite fascinating.  It’s got a lot of stupid, arbitrary, ever-changing rules.  It’s also got lots of words that sound dirty that aren’t.  Got any to add?  Here’s just a partial list:

moist

exacerbate

rectify

penalize

masticate

angina

But my favorite non-dirty word of all?

Kumquat.

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No silent H here.

January 13, 2009

It’s not “an historic event.”

It’s “a historic event.”

Stop trying to make me sound like a Brit.

English comic Frank Skinner is no stranger to the usage of  “dirty words” and has even defended swearing as a necessary part of comedy and language.  (As well he should – he’s absolutely right. )

Recently, however, he’s taken to removing swearing from his stand up act – not on moral grounds, he insists, but in an attempt to “freshen up” his act.  As a result of his experiment, he suddenly seems to have found a new appreciation for swearing, rather than a revulsion for it.  He told the BBC that he thought “there was now too much swearing on TV”.  OK, that doesn’t sound good, but he goes on to say that “I don’t want people using so much swearing that there’s a blanket ban because there won’t be then any room for the clever swearing – the beautiful, eloquent swearing.”

The old “less is more” adage.  I can agree with him to a point.  But, where do you draw the line, Frank?  Do you keep a staff of TV censors on hand to make sure that certain words aren’t uttered more than a certain quota?  Can you see these poor bastards, prepping the cast?  “OK, it says here you can only say ‘shit’ 4 times in the course of an hour, so you gotta keep track of that… oh, and try to keep the F-bomb to a minimum, too.”

Oh, but we’ll have to wait on that F-bomb.  According to a BBC article, “[a] poll for The Sunday Times found 30% of people believed the F-word should be banned while 55% thought the C-word should not be allowed. But 49% of the viewers said there should be a place for swearing on television.”

So fuck and cunt have no place on TV?  Those 2 little syllables, eh?  They’re enough, apparently, to keep sponsors and viewers away.  But other swear words, like “asshole” and “cocksucker”, apparently, do have a place on TV?

I know I’ve said this before, but isn’t this all rather ridiculous?  Certain syllables are OK while others are not?

Well, the language police are at it again.  This time, a little boy in New Jersey was denied a birthday cake when the ShopRite supermarket from which his mother ordered his cake refused to put his name on the cake.  The boy’s full legal name just happens to be Adolph Hitler Campbell.

Yeah, that’s a pretty fucked up name for a kid, especially when you consider the names of his siblings:  JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell.   You just can’t make this shit up!

Their lame-brained parents aren’t really racist, they say.  They don’t care if their kids hang out with blacks or other races.  They just thought it would be cool to name their kids uniquely.  I mean, who the hell else would dare to name their kid after the world’s most infamous Jew killer?

A spokesperson for ShopRite said that they “reserve the right not to print anything on the cake that we deem to be inappropriate.  We considered this inappropriate.”

The Campbells were able to get their cake at a nearby Wal-Mart, who, in light of all this press, are now questioning their policies about cake decorating.  They may soon instate a similar policy to ShopRite, which, basically, amounts to “if we or someone else might find it offensive, we won’t do it.”

Now, hold on here.  As strange as many might think it is to name your kids in such a way, there is no reason in the world why they shouldn’t be able to, and there is also no reason why they can’t go into a store and have their kid’s name put on a birthday cake.  Once again, this is about language, plain and simple.  Some people are just a little freaked out by certain words and, apparently, names.  (Remember all the neo-cons who just had to repeatedly remind everyone of Obama’s middle name?)  What is it, exactly, that is “inappropriate” about this kid’s name?  I mean, really?  OK, he has the same name as the guy who masterminded the murder of millions of Jews.  I suppose that is unfortunate, depending on your politics, but does that mean that somehow Little Hitler is guilty of some crime by association?  I mean, do all the Mark Chapmans of the world go around plotting assassinations because they happen to share the name of the wacko who killed John Lennon?   Of course not.

But, of course, there is the argument that a private business can refuse service on any grounds to any person for any reason (within the law, of course).  Point taken, fine – but my whole point is about the uptightedness of these business owners, and of people in general.  Let’s stop worrying about words, and worry more about intentions.  This family just wanted a cake with their kid’s name on it.   I don’t know about you, but I am holding out hope that I still live in a free country.  So, instead of having these knee-jerk, emotional reactions, can’t we all just agree to be civilized adults and leave language alone??

Same old song and dance.

November 8, 2008

A friend was recently at a memorial service in a Catholic church, and happened upon a stack of memos next to the piano which read as follows (a copy of which she gleefully stole for me!):

On August 8, 2008, Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, announced a new Vatican directive regarding the use of the name of God in the sacred liturgy.  Specifically, the word “Yahweh” may no longer be “used or pronounced” in songs and prayers during liturgical celebrations.

This directive affects the following songs currently included in OCP’s various missal programs:

“I Lift Up My Soul” by Tim Manion
“Let the King of Glory Come” by Michael Joncas
“Me Alegre” by Carlos Rosas
“Sing a New Song” by Dan Schutte
“The Lord is King” by Rory Cooney
“You Are Near” by Dan Schutte
“Yahweh” by Gregory Norbet/Weston Priory

Unfortunately, at the time the directive was announced, the 2009 editions of these books had already been printed and, in many cases, shipped.  The 2010 editions will include revised versions of the songs with updated texts.

The memo went on to include links to PDF versions of the updated songs that could be downloaded and reproduced, etc. etc.

OK, it sounds to me like there’s some real bullshit going on here.

First of all, talk about inefficiency.  Couldn’t the clowns in big hats at the Vatican make these decisions before they went to press on the songbooks?

So, the gripe is with the word “Yahweh”.   According to Catholic Culture, “[t]he Vatican has ruled that the Name of God, commonly rendered as ‘Yahweh,’ should not be pronounced in the Catholic liturgy.”

What’s the deal?  According to Wikipedia, “Yahweh is the English rendering of יַהְוֶה, a proposed vocalization of the Tetragrammaton יהוה as it appears in the Hebrew Bible. It is commonly subordinated into the title ‘God’ in popular bibles, or the Tetragrammaton translated as ‘JHVH’‘ Jehovah’ both of which remain commonly disputed.”

OK, so it’s just a fucking word.  Right?  Oh no.  “Modern observant Jews no longer voice the name יַהְוֶה aloud. It is believed to be too sacred to be uttered and is often referred to as the ‘Ineffable’, ‘Unutterable’ or ‘Distinctive Name’.”

What?  So there are some words that shouldn’t be said aloud?  Like “Fire!” in a crowded theatre?

So, what does this strange, superstitious Jewish tradition have to do with Catholic liturgy?  Well, apparently, the practice of pronouncing the Tetragrammaton has “crept in”, somehow to Catholic worship.  They make it sound like some nasty viral infection or something.  (Catholic Culture won’t tell me, but I’ll bet you anything it was those damned freethinkers among the Catholics who introduced this practice.)

Once again, religion and all of its paranoia and superstition has descended upon language – which is just the utterance of certain syllables – and, this time, taken aim at its own.  It’s bad enough when the devout are always saying things like “Jeezum Crow!” or “Holy cow!” and inviting us secular heathens to do the same, lest we might offend someone or – gasp! – take the lord’s name in vain!!!! – but it’s even funnier when, within their own ranks, there is all of this dispute about how, specifically, to sing praises to their invisible daddy.

My question is – does it really matter whether or not Catholics sing Yahweh at Mass?  I mean, what is this really about?  I suspect it has to do with reverence or honor of Biblical “history” (if you can call it that) and even more to do with just another way to exert some sense of authority and control over the devout.  All of these little directives only serve to erode the individual’s sense of autonomy and sovereignty, little by little, and mold each individual into the homogenous lump of servile Catholic humanity.   I know that sounds big and scary – but then, so is the Catholic religion.

Book publishing giant Random House and children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson are under fire from all the conservative freaks who apparently don’t like the word “twat” and all that it implies. So, the great Dame has buckled to pressure and has changed the offending word to “twit” in her latest work, My Sister Jodie. You can read more about this story here.

Once again, they’re bitching about words. (May I refer you, once again, to the mighty Frank Zappa, from an earlier post?)

If I type the phrase, “I’m going to kick that girl right in the twit”, you know exactly what is implied by the word “twit”. So why not just say “twat”? If you drop a bowling ball and exclaim, “Oh jeezum crow, that freaking hurt!”, why not just say, “Jesus Christ, that fucking hurts like fucking hell and I think I just broke my goddamn foot!”?

Words are tools, that’s it. A means to an end. I don’t believe any one word is more holy or more sacred or more offensive or more potent than another. Do I go around at my place of work and swear like a sailor? No (maybe under my breath occasionally), only because I have been beaten down by the moral code of society and don’t have the balls to be like my uncle Roger, who would shake hands with anyone and say, “How the fuck are you?” He was just a really friendly guy who felt the same way about language as I do – that it’s not the words you need to worry about, it’s the intent. Like George Carlin said, don’t worry about the word “nigger” – worry about the racist asshole who’s using it. It’s like watching an R movie edited for prime time TV, and hearing Steven Segal kick the living shit out of his wiseguy victim, and hearing said victim scream a poorly dubbed-in “oh gosh!” Please. Don’t treat us like we’re brainless idiots (although there are innumerable such idiots all over the place).

I have not read Wilson’s new book, but she seems to be, by all accounts, a highly acclaimed, socially-conscious author, whose older works deal with issues that are of interest to preteens and teens – dating, peer pressure, teen pregnancy, etc. etc. Can we just let artists and writers be artists and writers, and do their part to help enlighten the rest of us heathens?

And don’t these over-protective fascist parents and scaredy-cat conservatives realize that all they are doing, by making a huge deal out of this, is promoting the offending material even further, and boosting sales?

It saddens me that Wilson “doesn’t want to offend her readers or her readers’ parents”, to quote the BBC article. Of course, Wilson was ultimately motivated by British grocery chain Asda‘s decision to not carry the edition with the word “twat”.

Come on, people – don’t be offended by the word “twat” – be offended by the censorship that threatens every single person who can form a sentence or a thought of their own.

The left-handed lexicon.

June 12, 2008

Hello faithful readers,

This tasty little nugget found its way on to my desk a while back, and I’ve just been re-reading it, and, since I’m too lazy this morning to organize my own thoughts and opinions, I’ll share this column with you, written by a one Bill Marvel of Conway, New Hampshire. I don’t know anything about this man other than the fact that he is apparently a regular columnist for a daily rag called the Conway Daily Sun. Enjoy!

THE LEFTHANDED LEXICON

by William Marvel

The Conway Daily Sun

Monday, September 18, 2006

Anyone who has studied the human species for a few years should be sufficiently cynical to know Ambrose Bierce and his Devil’s Dictionary. That collection of sage observations served well enough in its day, and it is periodically revived, but it deserves certain additions and revisions. What follows represents a few entries for, shall we say, the definitive addition.

catastrophe, n. 1. In nature, a geological or meteorological event that threatens the survival of entire communities, continents, or of the planet itself. 2. In politics, the revelation of an embarrassing truth that jeopardizes the likelihood of an incumbent’s reelection.

committee, n. A gathering of three or more people for the purpose of collecting their most ridiculous ideas and memorializing them in a fashion that any of the individual members would find mortifying if held personally responsible.

congressman, n. A successful aspirant for both the condition of amnesia and the security of a federal pension, chosen through a contest of telling the most convincing lies.

corporation, n. An officially recognized syndicate in which the members are customarily allowed to enjoy most of the proceeds of criminal activity without suffering any of the consequences.

democracy, n. 1. An oligarchic system, esp. since 2000 A.D., in which a majority of the people within the state believe that they were allowed to participate in making a decision that was preordained by the dominant party’s leadership. 2. A form of government in which decisions are made by a majority of the people within the state (now obsolete).

god, n. A principal character in the mythology of primitive peoples, supposed to possess the power to cure all evils but in most instances notoriously unwilling to exercise that power; despite such inhumane perversity, this character is nonetheless reputed to be entirely benevolent.

insurgent, n. The name given by armed invaders to those who resist their domination.

judge, n. A lawyer who has made substantial contributions to successful gubernatorial candidates, who is rewarded with relief from the danger of malpractice complaints, regardless of the degree of idiocy exhibited from the bench.

law, n. A tradition established to protect the wealthy from injury by others, to secure them rights of private ownership in public property, and to provide them with a vehicle for intimidating and abusing the poor.

lawyer, n. [from Anglo Saxon “liar”]. In modern law, the principle beneficiary of any human tragedy, identifiable by the struggle to suppress a smile at the conclusion of judicial proceedings.

license, n. A certificate of authorization from the state to pursue activities that would otherwise be considered criminal. See lawyer, e.g.

patriot, n. One who boisterously professes to love his own nation, or to hate another, and who insists on the duty of others to take up arms in the protection and expansion of his own wealth.

patriotism, n. A common form of dementia distinguished by an attraction to brightly colored rags and martial music, often used as an excuse for crimes that cannot be explained by more sophisticated varieties of insanity.

police, n. A self-perpetuating organization established to create the illusion of public safety; known for failing to provide timely protection for the citizen who is physically threatened, and for simultaneously advocating against the citizen’s right of self-defense on the grounds that that is the responsibility of the police.

priest, n. One supposed to be a franchised subcontractor of the mythical god (q.v.) whose two main duties involve assuring customers of the affectionate protection available from his principal and explaining his principal’s repeated failure to demonstrate that affectionate protection. In the secular field of actuarial gambling known as insurance, these duties are performed by one called an agent.

property, n. Artificially partitioned portions of the earth, once claimed by kings by virtue of divine right and later conveyed to individuals who, though denying the divine right of kings, still pretend to hold valid title.

recreation, n. In the developed nations, a cornucopia of activities invented to absorb the abundant leisure of non-productive individuals, and to protect them from the danger of thinking about their personal insignificance; unknown in the third world except in the form of the storytelling that ameliorates incessant labor.

revolution, n. An exercise in political purification once deemed natural and morally justified, so viewed now only when directed against governments or heads of state hostile to the current administration, but otherwise criminalized as the most heinous form of heresy against the civil religion.

sentimentality, n. The American substitute for political dialogue.

sheriff, n. The principal law enforcement officer of a county, who in many regions also holds an ex officio position as chief of that county’s criminal element.

welfare, n. 1. A gift that the recipients of congressional campaign contributions give to corporations under the auspices of tax incentives or business subsidies, allegedly for the public good. 2. A humiliating stipend grudgingly dispensed to mothers who have been abused or abandoned by the fathers of their children.

William Carvel lives and lexicogitates in South Conway.