A Nation Of Potty Mouths

Found this on CBS website, linked from WIRED blog.

A Nation Of Potty Mouths

A Brief History Of Swear Words In America

July 23, 2006

(CBS) It all started with “Gone with the Wind” and Rhett’s not-so-fond adieu: “Frankly ,my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

His vulgarity was shocking at the time, but damn, that was nothing compared to what passes for entertainment today, where a movie is named “Meet the Fockers” and every Sunday night we invite “Desperate Housewives” into our homes, comments CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

Heck, even our born-again president swears, or did at least once that we know of.

President Bush lobbed an s-bomb during this chat with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week in St. Petersburg, Russia. (APTN)
President Bush lobbed an s-bomb during this chat with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week in St. Petersburg, Russia. (APTN)

We really are a nation of potty mouths.

Penn Jillette, of the comedy team Penn and Teller, recently produced what may be the most foul-mouthed movie ever – “The Aristocrats” — released last summer.

The film shows different comedians telling the same basic joke, each version nastier than the last.

“We now live in the freest time, in the freest country that has ever existed,” Jillette claims.

Jillette says America may have a conservative façade, but he swears we love swearing.

To find out how America really does feel about swearing and what effect it has on the country Hartman went to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, to meet Timothy Jay, a psychology professor.

He is the swearing authority.

“I’ve dedicated my whole career to this – once I got tenure, though,” Jay quips.

Professor Jay has written books on swearing, compiling a bleep-load of data.

“This is the who, what where and when of cursing,” Jay says of his work.

His conclusion: people swear a lot – and that’s OK.

“This language fulfills an emotional need to communicate how we feel, and to affect other people. And other language doesn’t do this you know.

“It’s kind of part of being human,” Jay says.

And Jays says it always has been since the advent of the vocal cord. In fact, he says the only thing that has changed over the centuries is the actual swear words themselves.

For example the s-h word – “shoot.” “Shoot” used to be a swear word – “shucks,” too. In the early 1900s, you weren’t supposed to say “Gee” or “Jeepers.” For crying out loud you couldn’t even say “for crying out loud!” — it was a euphemism for Christ.

In the 1800s, the big swear words were “drat,” “doggone” and – cover the kids’ ears! – “Jiminy Crickets.”

When early settlers came to America and stubbed their toe getting off the ship, they would have said, “Odsbodikins!” – a swear word that meant God’s little body.

Point is – all swear words are just words, so what is the problem?

“I say it’s not just words. Half the time you’re expressing some sort of negativity. You’re being hostile, you’re being belligerent, you’re just being unpleasant, crass, crude,” says James O’Connor.

O’Connor is the author of “Cuss Control.” He often lectures people who swear – only he does it in actual lectures.

“We’re not using any other words anymore. Whatever happened to bungle? I bungled that up, I boxed that up, I mismanaged that. It’s always ‘I F-ed that up.’ And everyone’s always P-O’d, they’re never mad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, irritated, livid, outraged,” O’Connor says.

Of course, Professor Jay finds swear words anything but lazy.

“There isn’t any other language that does what curse words do,” he says. “Expressing surprise, joy, anger, frustration, at its deepest level.

“I don’t care what people say. You know, ‘You can find another way to say this,’ they say. But there’s no other way to say “F-you.”

©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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