Thursday, November 29, 2007

My New Respect for Profanity

Here's a little secret about me - I'm incredibly classist as far as profanity is concerned. If you use profanity around me, I will associate you with the lower classes. Cuss words got their start on the streets and in the rural communities and I think that is where they should stay - they were rude words for rude functions and rude objects. Yes, there is a rough poetry in them, but it is like making sculpture out of waste material - you do the best you do with the limited qualities of what you have and as soon as you get something better you switch to it.

Educated people, people with more opportunity and a greater propensity for a larger vocabulary have more words for more situations. They don't need to rely on the overused seven or eight four-letter street words from the gutter to get their point across. They have better words.

That is why it always struck me as hilarious when writers (especially screenwriters) would cuss up a storm (I am talking to you, Creative Screenwriting Podcast). They have an unlimited word palate, yet insist on sticking to a limited set of words that barely make up a handful. Are they serious? Are we supposed to respect them for saying fuckity fuck fuck every two sentences? Are we supposed to think this makes them more street? More gangsta? Cooler than anyone else? More working class?

Seriously, can you imagine a CEO of a start-up going to meeting of potential investors and saying, "I got my monkey ass to Harvard and got my fucking MBA from some cockmonkey professors who really had their shit together. Would you mind writing a two million dollar check to invest in my kick ass company so I can start making bitches out of my customers?" Now pretend you are a writer trying to get someone to invest in your film and you selling point is the phrase "Tom-fucking-Cruise and Stephen-fucking-Spielberg." Seriously, writers, you come across looking like idiots, and then you have the gall to wonder why no one takes you seriously.

So that's my bias. When someone cusses around me, I usually think they're not intelligent or cultured enough to find the right word to fit the situation so instead rely on a crutch word of some sort. Plus it shows me that their mommas didn't raise them right.

But then I decided to take on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month - write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

I have just finished and submitted the novel to the word count validator and it approved of my work, bestowing on me this nice little graphic to put in my blog. This was an insane and stupid thing to do. November was a very busy month and squeezing in the time to eek out 50,000 words was almost too much.

My only saving grace was profanity. Thank heavens I have characters who like to cuss! Thank heavens there are these words left when I ran out of the right words! When the appropriate words dried up, when the most exquisite phrase filled with irony and insight wasn't available, there were these fix-alls.

When I was angry or upset, or, better yet, when a character was angry and upset (surprisingly, those two moods aligned themselves with a fierce regularity) there were the old tried and true cluster of four letter words there for me to use. And here's the awesome thing: If a character repeats the same word 100 times in a row just to bulk up your daily word quota (i.e. "Booger! Booger! Booger! Booger! etc.), it is considered shameless and stupid unless, of course, that character is cussing up a storm. In that case, it is called brilliant characterization. Such is the culture we live in.

So that's the big lesson learned from my novel-writing experience:

Sometimes it is fun to cuss.

That, and my mind is now goo.


alex said...

You must be lying through your teeth when you say you like my blog.

M. Robert Turnage said...

I love your blog. In fact, now is a great time to plug it and give it a little link love - For a good time, click

Courtney said...

Zounds, now I'm wondering just how many times I cussed over Thanksgiving in front of you. I am fond of cuss words with the k sound. The more the better. But I hold them up holy, use them only on very, very special occasions. Like Thanksgiving.

You must *love* the movie _The Usual Suspects_. I know I do.

M. Robert Turnage said...

The only time you cussed was when I cussed first, so it was like a call and response.

There is another blog entry in the works about the word "monkey" as the all-purpose swear word intensifier. You put in front or behind any swear word and it instantly becomes ten times better.

I have become fond of 30 Rock's "Blerg!" as an all purpose exclamation of grief.

And you are right, I was not overly impressed with _The Usual Suspects_. Bunch of wankery paraded around for 110 minutes...

Magnus said...

I'm very much in favour of bad words that are completely devoid of any sense. Like the great "Fick Pisse" (don't need to translate that, do I? Take out 1 letter and replace another one... see where it takes you), which if I would think long and hard might come up with a meaning (how much that meaning would be based in reality is another question). But they are just offensive without going the extra way of actually carrying any meaning or information, the purest most minimalist form of verbal abuse I can think of. But then again I also like sculptures made from waste material... excuse me, I'll go and wash my mouth out with soap now.

M. Robert Turnage said...

I love you, Magnus.