Saturday, August 6, 2011

Giving a Damn

Louise, a kindergarten teacher, overheard 5 year old Zac telling someone to piss off. "We don't use those words at school," she reproved, quite kindly.
"Bullshit!" he replied. "Year 4 say it all the time."
For me to use these words is somewhat like my wearing a bikini. Of course people wear them,  (although I might find some decisions re this to be  flawed), and I can find it enviable.    But unseemly, unattractive and inappropriate  for me.

"Damn" is well within my repetoire, plus "bugger".  But not the above, or further up the scale.   Not because I'm prim.   Not because I'm female:  my father was in the trenches, logging camps, ships et al, and I never heard him say as much as "damn": my standards are lower than his.   A student at Manchester Grammar early in the last century, my father was fortunate enough to  be presented with  classical role models which guided his life,.  My husband may have used lurid language on his farm for all I know, but not at home.  Going to a private school, my husband was indoctrinated? with the same idealism that my father was.
"A man is someone who can control himself," says 30 year old  Fred, and one can make of that what one will.

But, probably it's because I'm older.  Perhaps, in the past, words were more of a social divider, and these were the words of the lowest classes, so one eschewed them. I see many of these words as coarse and vulgar.  They are not that way for the younger, and they can use them with quite a different spirit, and with an exhilirating outcome.
Plus,   the now quite ubiquitous  "f"was simply obscene  Irrespective of what Tsolkias said in his anger,  no one used it.  Simon  and Garfunkel's "four letters on a subway wall" portray this exactly: this occasional scrawl at a railway station was an act of sexual aggression, a virtual rape,  by an anonymous, dysfunctional and perverted thing.
 For me to say this carries no particular weight, so I am happy to say that Nora Ephron, who carries a lot more credibility, says pretty much the same thing.
I can also say that I am happy  that the power of this assault  has been dissipated by the contemporary ubiqiuty of the "f"  use.

Because, by and large, I have no issue with other people swearing...I can find it funny, tolerable, interesting or unnoticeable... and I am sometimes  quite fascinated by it.  Fascinated that "f" and "c" first came to acceptance through literature and other high places.  Fascinated about the unwritten rules:  it is acceptable to swear across or down the hierarchy , but not up:  Zac's error. 
Fascinated and frustrated that it can express such a range of emotions, or none.  Rather appalled that it is a social issue:  one can be charged and gaoled evidently, for using language that is commonplace on tv.

 I wrote a flash fiction of 300 words, moving from him initially calling her "sweetie" to referring to her as a "manipulative bitch".  It occurred to me that, in contemporary mores, he should have referred to her as  a "f"ing " "c".
Stronger?  Why are those expletives "stronger", when they are so comonplace?

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," said Rhett Butler. A scathing sentence.
Oh, the patronising tone of "my dear".
And;    "I don't give a..." gives all the contempt possible, irrespective of whether it was a damn or a f.
The power of words.   We seem to have given  up on that.

17 comments:

The Elephant's Child said...

First and foremost. I love your header. That garden looks such a beautiful and serene sanctuary. And the tree is a delight.

'The power of words. We seem to have given up on that.' Not only given up on it - we seem to be intent on removing the power. When f means everything from how amazing to drat to I am very unhapppy with you, its original power is diminished. And other words are ignored/not used/lost in the laziness of just using a handful of what were previously rarely heard obscenities.

(Which is not to say that I am not guilty myself from time to time).

Thank you. A post which has me thinking.

Frances said...

Thankyou Elephant's Child. Don't we all need a sanctuary. I take Edna Walling's instruction to let the garden to its own devices here and there, to make its own pictures, a little too literally: its pictures sometimes look like an angry child's scribbles, and I have to hack and chop and try to sort it all out.
I think that what I don't like re language is the way that it reduces nuance and subtlety.
And, as well, the fact that it's use is regarded in "art" as adult and real...I mean, do any or many barristers speak the way that they almost all do on "Rake"?

Relatively Retiring said...

It's interesting that, as you say, so many of the currently rudest and most sexually explicit words have Anglo Saxon origins.
Please publish your flash fiction here.

Frances said...

People of influence, those Anglo Saxons, RR: their words travelling down the centuries.
I used to think that there were three words that were understood in any language: beer, taxi, police...but, these days one could add a fourth.
50+ words.
"Do dreams come true, Grandpa?" she asks, her face alight with life's possibilities.
He pauses to reflect. "When I was young I often dreamed that all my teeth fell out," he says, smiling broadly, showing a set of gleaming acrylic teeth.
"Oh," she says, disappointed. "I guess not, then." The future dims.
---------------------
Well, a bit weak...why do I do it?

Relatively Retiring said...

Lovely....and a great challenge to do it.
Do you have the little book of Mini Sagas? (Observer, I think)

R.H. said...

As a badly brought up person who's done time in the slammer I find you way out of touch: C is still an outrageous word in any company. A few weeks ago at Laverton trash market when I called my buddy a mean cunt, just in passing, a roughnut picking through the same trash laughed, purely from shock.
I can't see a time when that word will be accepted anywhere in the media, nor even among stand-up comedian dopes. Vagina is as far as they'll go.
As a badly brought up person it irks me to find the petit bourgeoisie trying to put some colour into dull writing by swearing a lot. Worse than that is hearing them say fuck with such perfect enunciation. How ridiculous. It's funny that I've spent years of my adult life trying to rise up among the educated and respectable while so many of them are wanting to descend.
I know what I'm talking about. I was swearing when I was three years old. It's all documented, social worker's reports. "She had a child with her, a little boy about three years old who was running around and swearing. When matron came in he said, 'Hello, you bastard.' The mother said he'd learned it from other children in the street."

How cute, I learned it from my father.

Frances said...

Thanks, RR.
I've also been meaning for some time to thank you for suggesting "Old Filth". Wonderful!

Frances said...

RH: I'm definitely out of touch with people who've been in the slammer, but I'm not out of touch with the supermarket, where I sometimes hear schoolgirls use the word. It elicits slight disapproving frowns...perhaps.

Yes, I didn't emphasise that the overuse or dishonest use in writings does annoy me.

R.H. said...

You won't admit you're wrong. Rough crims I met in the slammer are sorts I still mix with today and I know the serious mistake of ever using the word cunt where their women are present; that is a simple fact. At the other end, whilst uttering or writing obscenities gives squarehead graduates a strange thrill there are limits. Around middle-age they'll find out it's not talent. And that the tattoos they got in their teens and twenties were a horrible mistake. Meanwhile I'm insulted seeing these fashionistas turning slums where I grew up into fake European bohemias; the women especially, bouncing their arses down Chapel Street in hussy style and not one of them will say cunt.

It's false, all of it. But they'll wake up, grow out of it. Ars longa, vita brevis.

persiflage said...

The ubiquity of swearing makes me froth and bubble and I wish people would put up with it less. How to combat it, though? I really don't know.
I live opposite a high school and every morning and afternoon as the pupils arrive and depart, every second word is F...
I would dearly like to reprimand them, but cannot face the prospect of my house being damaged or defaced.

Frances said...

R.H. In ABC's "The Drum" today, m Stutchberry writes of older teenagers calling him a "caaaarhnt".
http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2836344.html

We are talking different demographics, and you are assuming that yours is the most foul mouthed. That might not be so.

Frances said...

Persiflage: I recall being totally shocked when (Diamond) Jim McClelland said something like: "No hostess would be surprised nowadays if you said fxxx at the dinner table." (I read it, didn't hear it). 1980 or thereabouts? It's first public endorsement, as I recall. It did make me wonder about the topics at the dinner tables.
You are very prudent re the students.

Sannah said...

I remember the first time that I heard my mother swear 'properly'. And probably the only time I have heard her use this word. She said d*%khead. I am not sure that I have quite recovered. It was about 15 years ago, because of an idiot on the road to albury almost causing an accident. Growing up in a house where swearing just didn't happen is something that still makes me proud. It doesn't happen in our house either.

Sannah said...

it seems as though the crims and the teenage girls might have competition, i just came across this: http://cuntisnotadirtyword.blogspot.com/

Frances said...

Hi Sannah! It's always a good idea, indeed a practice endorsed by tradition, to remember your parents' lapses for decades, and remind them of them. (Tee-hee)

R.H. said...

Well darlings it's like infidelity, look hard enough and you'll find it.

Do this, go to your local supermarket and say it our loud*.

-Robert.

*Wear a balaclava.

Frances said...

(I'll put this in brackets so that you can have the last word, R.H.)