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Passions in Poetry

The roles of profanity

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Senior Member
since 05-27-2001
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Ohio, USA

0 posted 12-30-2003 12:51 AM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

In another thread I read the repeated opinion that obscenities are cliches, reserved for those who haven't yet mastered their native tongue.

While I certainly think this can be true in some cases, I also think that profanity and obscenity have a valuable place in writing and art.

I've been reading and listening to a lot of thirf-wave feminist stuff lately, and the exploration of taboo terms in an enlightened or 'liberated' mindset seems to be a key element to many of the writings. For example, I'm reading a compilation by the founders of Bust magazine, and you can bet there is every slang available tossed in for features of the female anatomy.

There's a book by a woman named Inga Muscio... the title of which I can't really type here without getting edited. For the most part, in my opinion, the book  is radical left-wing garbage about how oppressed we womens still are... but there's an interesting section on the history behind the c-word for the female package... and the current implications that holds for women everywhere.

Another third-wave catch phrase is "P"-power... touted by musical duo Bitch and Animal, among others- a kind of grown-up Girl Power, I guess. Socially, that word has a lot of meanings... sometimes used to denigrate men as wimps, sometimes used to lower the female body to a purely material level...

But it makes me think of common use of the N-word in black culture. I used to have something against it, not understanding why people would work so hard to rid themselves of a label and then apply it to themselves. But I think there's a certain power behind reclaiming terms, making them your own.

Still, it's not just societal labels I'm addressing here, it's all swears. Another, more obscure author I really like is L.A. Ruocco... she seems to have a very keen interest in linguistics, with a lot of her work focusing on word roots, meanings, and word play in the form of visually and gramatically manipulating words and phrases to bring out less obvious meanings. I'd recommend anyone to just check her stuff out, tho it's not exactly for the weak of heart or faint of politics... Anyway, she explores every topic imaginable, and those most would probably sooner not imagine, including her seeming fixation on bodily function...

But here's the thing. Had I not read some of the things she's written, I'd probably not have lost a lot of the inhibitions I did about my body, and about the ways I can talk about my body. So is there a positive place for the obscene?


P.S. DYK: When Eve Ensler was just starting to tour with the Vagina Monologues, a lot of theaters rejected her play because the word "vagina" in the title was considered to provocative and/or obscene.
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1 posted 12-30-2003 04:56 AM       View Profile for Michelle_loves_Mike   Email Michelle_loves_Mike   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Michelle_loves_Mike

profanity is a part of our everyday speach,,,,one way or another,,,,but,,so too, I think Bill Cosby really hit it in his stand up routine,,"Bill Cosby Himself".he only used one "dirty" word.....and the routine was hillarious,,,,,,on the flip side of that coin,,,Eddie Murphy let it fly constantly,,,and was equaly funny,,,,,so,,profanity has a place,,,it all depends on how and where we put it

I wish all could find the true happiness I have found,,in the eyes of Mike

[This message has been edited by Michelle_loves_Mike (12-31-2003 07:50 AM).]

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2 posted 12-30-2003 08:08 AM       View Profile for Opeth   Email Opeth   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Opeth

"So is there a positive place for the obscene?"

Have anyone ever seen the movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles? There is a scene when Steve Martin walks up to the Rent-A-Car desk to inquire about why his rental car wasn't where it was supposed to be, leaving him stranded... the key word in the ensueing dialogue between himself and the rental car clerk is the F word.

I have seen that scene many times, both the F word cut and with the F word left intact. It is absolutely one of the funniest scenes of movie with F word included and a completely wasted scene witht he F word cut out.

[This message has been edited by Opeth (12-30-2003 08:16 AM).]

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3 posted 12-30-2003 11:58 AM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

We don't live in an over-modest, over-inhibitioned society today so why do we need to strip inhibitions away anymore, especially after last century?
Member Rara Avis
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4 posted 12-30-2003 12:09 PM       View Profile for Christopher   Email Christopher   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Christopher

I believe there is a place for profanity... when it's not used as an "easy way out." Too often, profanity is used as a crutch - a method by which the author escapes the need for true creativity by using "shock" or "action" (as in providing the sense of action through the "weight" of a word) words in the form of profanity. This probably worked some time back, when profanity was less common and more rebellious. These days, however, it's commonplace and no longer carries the weight it once did.

But it does have its place. Depiction of characters is one - i'm sure most of us know people who use profane words more than they use nouns. Depicting them in writing requires the use of that profanity. It can also still be used to emphasize a point. This only works though, when it is set aside from the rest of the words - used infrequently. If half the dialogue is comprised of profanity, the time when you're trying to emphasize something gets buried and is invariably unnoticed.

Just a few thoughts.

Btw - hush, love this: "thirf-wave" - sounds like a tooth is coming loose.
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5 posted 12-31-2003 12:19 AM       View Profile for Ringo   Email Ringo   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Ringo

IMHO, profanity does have it's uses, and it's absolute place is society. Although, I am one to use it in standard speech much, much more than myself, or father Mulcahey would like, I feel that it is most effective when used as an exclamation point on a conversation, or as an unexpected slap in the face.
An example would be the Bill Cosby example used above. Bill Cosby has never been known tor using harsh language, and yet in that routine, he used a descriptive term based on a specific part of the body. That made the joke infinately more effective than if he said, "Yes, but, what if you are an idiot?"

Cause in my dreams it's always there
The evil face that twists my mind
And brings me to despair.

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6 posted 12-31-2003 04:16 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

To reiterate a couple of things that have already been mentioned ...

Profanity is often used as crutch in the arts.  More of it doesn't ensure more effectiveness, unless your effect is merely to shock.  But to me, even if you want to shock people, let your original ideas do so, not the impropriety of the words.  It's kind of the cheap way of getting a reaction that would otherwise have to be earned, and well thought out.  The same is true of it in everyday conversation.

As to humor ...  Why do we find profanity funny?  I would ask, just because it is more humorous to use certain words, does that make it okay?  I've found that it's sometimes easier to elicit general laughter by insulting someone in some way.  Laughter is louder when it bounces off of someone's head.  But does that make it right to do?  We seem to have a misunderstanding that ends always justify the means.  In other words, if it's funny or more effective, then it's justifiable to say.  But the very word "profanity" was born in the assumption that some things are uncool and improper quite independent of context and usage.

I for one, tend to lose respect for an author who uses profanity ... though it doesn't mean I'm never interested in his or her ideas.  Such things are distractors to me.

And like Essorant, I don't think "losing inhibitions" is something that our society needs help with ... since it is a healthy sense of shame that usually needs to be recovered in some way.      


[This message has been edited by Stephanos (12-31-2003 04:20 PM).]

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7 posted 01-01-2004 05:20 PM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

What if losing inhibitions leads to a greater understanding of things?

For example, a lot of the THIRD (not THIRF... lol) wave feminism texts I've been reading talk about language as a) a means of oppression or b) a means of liberation.

I.E. if I'm too emberrassed to use certain words that are used to describe my body- does it show that I am truly comfortable with my body, with who I am?

If society uses the C-word for the female package as the ultimate insult, can't I counterract the negative power of the word by adopting it as an affectionate term I use in reference to myself, to my body, much the same way African Americans adopted the N-word?

BTW- if it takes me a while to get back to this, it's b/c my computer's sick...
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8 posted 01-03-2004 06:56 AM       View Profile for Severn   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Severn

Hush...I think there's a problem with your idea of counteraction.

The results of revolution eventually become the norm.

With that principle in mind, and using your example of the C-word, another word would then arise to take its place. That new word would then require its own revolution to counteract its negative effect.

Language ever evolves as we all know...

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9 posted 01-03-2004 05:27 PM       View Profile for TwistedKnickers   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for TwistedKnickers

Hello Hush....
      Interesting topic. I'm not sure if one should use the "C" word or not, but I DO know that in relationship to language expression, profanity is the ultimate laziness. Ingeniously used sarcasm and wit have truly "unevolved" because of it. Masters of the art of sarcasm lived in late 18th Century France and those poets and writers were the "creme de la creme" of that society. In those days, the pen was truly mightier than the sword. It saddens me to think we as writers can't come up with that kind of weaponry without resorting to such slang. The art of wit and sarcasm is a dying one. It's up to us as poets to ressurrect it, with dignity.

      I know this doesn't answer your question...just another opinion.

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