As you may or may not have picked up, I don’t use curses in my writing. I don’t say them, either. I can’t really explain why it is, but at this point it is almost pathological. As a result, I tend to self-censor, and it has got me thinking. Censorship is a strange thing. When making something suitable for broadcast television or children, it really is reduced to a sort of art form. The lengths that some of these censors will go to find a word which maybe, kinda, sorta works in context, or at least matches lip sync, is really astounding. Other times we get lines like ?You racist melon farmer!? Self-censorship tends to be much simpler. The most popular way is to just swap the offending expletive for its initial. The problem is that we all know what you meant. While this is arguably the point, the end result is thus the same as actually saying the word you were avoiding, which begs the question: Is it really any better than just saying the word?
Let’s look at the prime example. The F word just becomes the word ?eff.? It is a lazy substitution, frequently used by new parents and other recently reformed filth talkers, but most will agree that it is generally preferred to the actual F word when speaking in front of children. Yet, I wonder. Could you say it in a G rated movie? Could Mickey Mouse say ?Goofy, you really effed things up this time!? and get away with it? Would you want your five year old saying, ?I’d like some effing juice, mommy.? every morning? Probably not. Why? Because we all know what word is supposed to go there. All you did is change the sound you make, the thought is the same. You’ve succeeded in making a new word dirty. And we are doing this all of the time.
Take the word ?retarded? for example. Once upon a time this was a description of a particular type of mental or physical condition. It still is, but because it was such an effective insult, we have introduced euphemisms. Handicapped was first. Mysteriously, people started using that word as an insult. Then came ?special,? and guess what? Now special is an insult too! You’d think people would eventually catch on to the fact that it is the condition, not the word, that we are using. Changing the word just makes the new word an insult, and changes like that are retroactive. Teachers used to give out stickers and ribbons that proclaimed you to be special, which means that somewhere an overachiever’s wall of awards magically changed from source of pride to source of ridicule overnight when the PC press made that decision. They also used to call sex ?whoopee? which makes a whoopee cushion sound like something you’d have to buy at an entirely different novelty store.
The really weird thing, though, is the list of words we do let our kids say, and let them say on TV. Jerk, for example. Bugs Bunny has called Elmer Fudd a jerk on numerous occasions with nary a whisper from the watchdog groups. Yet all they did was drop one little word, Off. Off wasn’t even the descriptive part of it, for crying out loud. Jerk is the verb! It describes the motion. It is the thing that evokes the image. If someone said, ?I just caught our son in the bathroom jerking!? you wouldn’t need to ask for clarification. ?Jerking, eh? In what way? Up? Because if so, he’s doing it wrong.? Somehow, though, by leaving off the off, little suzie can say, ?Mo-o-om, Billy is being a JERK!? and not get a slap in the face. I’ll admit, it is a fun word. It sort of sounds like a creature from Dr. Seuss. ?The Grinkle Bellied Jerk!? So it is obvious why kids would latch on to it, but we are still letting them get away with accusing each other of masturbation… which leads to another issue. Technically calling a girl a jerk is, at the very least, misleading. A girl doesn’t have the equipment to be a jerk – not alone, anyway ? so calling them one carries an entirely different connotation. There should probably be a different verb for them. Feel free to make suggestions.
Another word we don’t seem to mind kids using is dork. You know what it means? Penis. It isn’t even like it was particularly well disguised, but for some reason no one minds if we hear about having to go to school with a bunch of dorks. Heck, we let kids get away with dorkface, which is, frankly, a disturbing image. And then there’s wussy… really. The word has the exact same meaning in most contexts, and four out of five letters in common. Is one letter all it takes to make it a-okay? Would it be okay for a cartoon villain to go to jail for graping somebody? ?What did Yosemite Sam do this time?? ?He bucked daffy with his denis.? By the logic behind wussy, this this is perfectly kosher, yet I don’t get to hear Slowpoke Rodriquez sing about marijuana or hear the term ?cotton pickin’? as a part of Sam’s trademark ranting.
I guess in the end it only serves to illustrate that we should be seeking to change the thoughts, not the words. Maybe try to stop insulting people instead of coming up with magic disguises for those insults. Because, really, the purpose of an expletive is to shock, anger, or offend. If that’s what you want to do, then do it. Coming up with a nice way to say it is like trying to beat someone to death with a pillow. It annoys both people, achieves nothing, and ruins the pillow.