[In my short, not-illustrious stint in the U.S. Navy I found myself onboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) for eight weeks cruising the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. This is a long story that I will leave for another time, aside from pointing out that we had our own, little language code, the most notable feature of which was the insertion of what is now commonly called an f-bomb inside any three syllable word. For example “incredible” became “in-fucking-credible” and “outstanding” became “out-fucking standing.” The rules of shipboard grammar were quite rigid, and we all adhered to them. It would have been considered quite a faux pas, for instance, to say so gauche as “incredi-fucking-ble.”
My go-to guy on all matters linguistic these days is John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia. He is articulate, prolific, and funny. I listen to, rather than read his books, because they are filled with critical inflections and language subtleties that are key to his central premise.
The most recent of his works that I’ve read is Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter- Then, Now, and Forever. It features all my favorite words and tells where and how they originated, how they have evolved, and their current state within the native tongue. He even dares to take on the currently forbidden utterances known as the N-word, and its cousin, the “other”F-word. Now we add to the list the C-word, prominent in headlines today.
Silverback Bill recently sent me a posting from his cousin–in-law’s blog that shed some light on the current status. It is written by Silverback John Goodman (not that John Goodman) who writes from Oaxaca, Mexico. I find it relevant and thought I would share. SB SM]
Goodman Speaks … on matters of dubious interest
According to several reports, Tucker Carlson got fired for using the “c-word” in reference to one of his bosses. And the Fox newsroom apparently was awash in unwholesome epithets, often sexual in nature. Such is the state of far-right conservatism. But heavy-duty expletives, once stigmatized by politicians and the media, now prevail everywhere.
You surely have noticed this. Films and pop music seem to glory in their ever more funky language. The staid New York Times now grudgingly accepts profanity. So does NBC News and many major media outlets. It seems to be coin of the realm to spice up stories with otherwise little merit.
Readers of this blog know that I’m not a prude about language. I counted eight stories with the word “bullshit” in them, but I like to avoid the stronger stuff unless it’s in a quote. Hot words lose their punch quickly, particularly with overuse. And the purpose is not blasphemy anymore; it’s putting on an act of being streetwise and hip.
When I was much younger I used foul language a lot. Sometimes it was just a lazy way to make a point or impress a listener, and sometimes that was worth doing. You have to develop a kind of good taste in when and how you swear. That’s lacking in so much of what we hear and see in the media today.
Though this linguistic indulgence began before him, Trump is largely responsible for how such language (and behavior) has flourished. His language is key to how his followers respond to him. Does it help the rest of us understand him? I don’t know. If I called him a coarse motherfucking pussy-grabber, does that clarify anything?
Bless E. Jean Carroll for pursuing her case and telling her story. The Post’s Ruth Marcus says that we need to hear these repellent stories over and again “to remind ourselves of how far Trump has dragged us down into the gutter with him, reduced to his level of tawdry entitlement.”
“Tawdry entitlement.” That really says it all, doesn’t it? Language, as someone said, is the window to the soul.