Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Cleaning Up the Dirty Words

Here's what gets me.

I'm going to write every filthy, disgusting, dirty word you have ever seen or heard right now: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz.

There. That wasn't so bad, was it?

"What?" you say? "That's just the alphabet," you say?

Correct, but it contains every dirty word ever written and every dirty word that ever will be written. You just have to string the improper letters together, assuming you didn't stop reading when I announced what I was going to do.

Now, what is it with so-called "dirty" words that causes such an uproar? We have all heard them, and many of us have used them. Then, why is it we make such a stink about them when we see them in print or hear them in movies, radio or television?

The reason is that somewhere along the line we made an unwritten agreement that certain words are "dirty" and out of place in "polite" society, and people who use them anyway can get into big trouble.

Lenny Bruce, the controversial comedian who died in 1966 at 40, got into big trouble for being "obscene" on stage. What did he do? He offended society.

Now, what is the problem with dirty words? Is it the content or the form that is offensive?

Well, it cannot be the content, because if one word for the human anatomy or a physical act is considered to be offensive, another word that means exactly the same thing is not. Why is that?

We won't allow the most common word for the act of love, but we will allow "sexual intercourse," "coitus," "copulation," "hiding the sausage" and "dancing the horizontal mambo," among many many others.

Why? Because the one word that is shortest of all and has no ambiguous meaning in that context has been banned by "polite" society.

Also, we don't allow certain slang words for various parts of the human anatomy, but "penis," "vagina," "breast" and "anus" are perfectly acceptable. Why?

Although "Saturday Night Live" once got into trouble for saying the word "penis" 23 times in one sketch, after Lorena Bobbitt sliced her husband's sausage and made all the newspapers, network news programs and late-night talk shows, using any other word would have made the speakers look prudish and foolish.

Wait a minute, however. It cannot be the form that is dirty, either. "Cock" is perfectly acceptable when it means a rooster. "Pussy" is perfectly acceptable when it means a cat. And "tit" is perfectly acceptable when it means in exchange for tat.

So, what's the big deal with dirty words if the offense is neither in the content nor in the form? Could it be the intent? Do we get offended by certain words only because we believe that the speaker or writer intended to offend us?

But that's not being fair, nor is it being logical. If we take offense by what we believe was someone's intent, then are we saying we have the power of knowing what people want to do before they do it? Is that what we are saying?

We are proud of the fact that our Constitution guarantees us the right of free speech. And yet we don't allow everyone to practice free speech. We censor free speech. Why?

Well, now you're going to say that something I might say might offend you. But, wait a minute. Something that might offend you will not offend somebody else.

Therefore, are you saying that you are better than those unoffended people and know more than they do? Is that what you are saying?

Hold onto your seats. I am going to offend you. I am going to write the common, four-letter word that means the supreme, gentle, tenderest, everynight act of love. Here it comes: f---. Were you offended?

You have seen that before, haven't you? People are offended when they see all the letters, but not when the newspaper substitutes hyphens for some of the letters.

What sense is that? You know what it means, I know what it means and the newspaper knows what it means. But somewhere along the line we agreed that we won't be offended when we see symbolic hyphens.

Why don't we just agree that we won't be offended by any word, no matter how s---- it is?

After all, a word is only another symbol for an object or an idea, and we all have the power to make a symbol mean anything we choose.

Now, isn't that silly?

I rest my case.

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