In the opening words of the Matt Taylor song, I remember when I was young . . .
How Gordon Chater was suspended from Sydney television for saying “bum” in the Mavis Bramston Show. How Graham Kennedy was banned from doing further live television because he imitated a crow call in 1975: “Faaaark! Faaaaark!” It was the first time the word had been uttered on Australian TV.
Today the attitude to swear words is much more relaxed, as a quick look at some of the foreign dramas and English text on SBS will show. The focus is now less on swear words and more on intolerance. The f word and the c word are now of less concern than, for instance, the n word.
Which raises another interesting aspect.
Someone once told me that swear words in western society are based on sex, whereas in Scandanavian countries they are based on religion. I have read that this is correct, so the question arises: Does the fact that western swearing refers to bodily parts and bodily functions have an implied assumption or a basis that sex is considered profane or dirty? There may be a thesis there.
I don’t want to raise the ire of Byter Steve, who said to me in an email this week “I sometimes find the Bytes a little too long, so I save them up if I am busy, and there are days when I just don’t get to them at all. I think I said once before, I like quickies during the week, and long slow ones at the weekend. . .“
Sometime what was intended to be a short item ends up quite different. Like Topsy in Uncle Tom’s cabin, it just growed.
I say this because I am posting a poem below, by an unknown author (although it has been attributed to Ogden Nash, Charles Sprilka and others) that makes some pertinent points about swearing, particularly in the distinction between the act or item and the description of it:
“Today not the act but the word is the test
Of the vulgar, obscene and impure".
Yesterday I mentioned double entendre. The opposite of double entendre is euphemism, typified by a marvellous quote from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? –
HONEY: I want to… put some powder on my nose.
GEORGE: Martha, won’t you show her where we keep the euphemism?
The poem below uses most of the well known swear words. To paraphrase the TV warnings, the following item contains adult words and content, and strong language. Reader discretion is advised.
The poem is dsated in parts but still worth the read.
ODE TO THE FOUR LETTER WORD
Banish the use of those four-letter words
Whose meanings are never obscure.
The Angles and Saxons, those bawdy old birds,
Were vulgar, obscene, and impure.
But cherish the use of the weak-kneed phrase
That never quite says what you mean;
Far better you stick to your hypocrite ways
Than be vulgar, or coarse, or obscene.
When Nature is calling, plain speaking is out,
When ladies, God bless 'em, are milling about,
You make water, wee-wee, or empty the glass;
You can powder your nose; "Excuse me" may pass;
Shake the dew off the lily; see a man 'bout a dog;
Or when everyone's soused, it's condensing the fog,
But be pleased to consider and remember just this -
That only in Shakespeare do characters piss!
You may speak of a movement, or sit on a seat,
Have a passage, or stool, or simply excrete;
Or say to the others, "I'm going out back,"
Then groan in pure joy in that smelly old shack.
You can go lay a cable, or do number two,
Or sit on the toidy and make a do-do,
But ladies and men who are socially fit
Under no provocation will go take a shit!
When your dinners are hearty with onions and beans,
With garlic and claret and bacon and greens;
Your bowels get so busy distilling a gas
That Nature insists you permit it to pass.
You are very polite, and you try to exhale
Without noise or odour - you frequently fail -
Expecting a zephyr, you carefully start,
But even a deaf one would call it a fart!
A woman has bosoms, a bust or a breast.
Those lily-white swellings that bulge 'neath her vest;
They are towers of ivory, sheaves of new wheat;
In a moment of passion, ripe apples to eat.
You may speak of her nipples as small rings of fire
With hardly a question of raising her ire;
But by Rabelais's beard, she'll throw fifteen fits
If you speak of them roundly as good honest tits!
It's a cavern of joy you are thinking of now,
A warm, tender field just awaiting the plough
It's a quivering pigeon caressing your hand,
Or that sweet little pussy that makes a man stand.
Or perhaps it's a flower, a grotto, a well,
The hope of the world, or a velvety hell.
But, friend, heed this warning, beware the affront
Of aping a Saxon: don't call it a cunt!
Though a lady repel your advance, she'll be kind
Just as long as you intimate what's on your mind.
You may tell her you're hungry, you need to be swung,
You may ask her to see how your etchings are hung.
You may mention the ashes that need to be hauled;
Put the lid on her sauce-pan, but don't be to bold;
For the moment you're forthright, get ready to duck -
The girl isn't born yet who'll stand for "Let's fuck!"
So banish the words that Elizabeth used
When she was a Queen on the throne.
The modern maids' virtue is easily bruised
By the four-letter words all alone
Let your morals be clean as an Alderman's vest
If your language is always obscure
Today not the act but the word is the test
Of the vulgar, obscene and impure"