bad words

I’ll be the first to admit that my language, when unfettered by social propriety, is pretty salty. I never agreed with pedants who claim that swearing just indicates a limited vocabulary (see–I even used the word ‘pedants’). But sometimes, when confronted with certain situations and certain people, swearing is the only appropriate response. These situations include the following:

  • automated phone menus that instruct you to simply say your choice but then pretend to not understand what you’ve said, taunting you like HAL from 2001
  • convenience store clerks who count out your change so slowly that it seems as if they’re seeing the various denominations of currency for the very first time
  • former members of the Bush cabal who won’t shut up because they can’t seem to understand that not only did their ilk create most of what we’re trying to fix but in addition to that they lost and so consequently IT’S NOT THEIR TURN ANYMORE

It just feels good, on a visceral, primal level, to believe that you’re actually saying “fuck you” to the annoying robotic phone lady, or the kid at the 7-11,  or Donald Trump.

Ironically, when I perform standup comedy, I swear less than I do in my offstage life. In performance, language rarely shocks anymore, and the word “fuck” , for most comics on the road, has become a bright shiny object held up to draw the focus away from some hackneyed, hollow joke. Don’t get me wrong–the word is still in my quiver, but I don’t reach for it as often as I used to.

I’m reminded of a comedian who, by way of explaining that he didn’t swear, would point out that it was because he couldn’t think of any words strong enough to express his anger. Which leads me to ‘gadzooks’.

I want to start a movement to bring back some classic, if archaic, words for those “hit your thumb with a hammer moments. A cathartic way of expleting, without deleting. I propose the following ‘starter set,’ with annotations.

  1. Zounds! This one has a little extra spriritual component (it’s short for “God’s wounds“), and as such is useful when you need to swear in a religious setting–“Zounds! How long is this funeral gonna last, anyway?” Strangely, Zounds is also the name of a manufacturer of hearing aids, so context is important.
  2. Holy Mackeral! I like that this one starts out religious, and then veers toward the surreal, allowing you to express the kind of anger that is so disorienting you actually start to imagine fish with supernatural properties.
  3. Yikes! My favorite. Short, punchy, hard ‘k’ sound…channel your inner B-movie star the next time you’re stuck waiting for the cable guy–“Yikes! I thought you’d never get here, my good man!” (note: the “my good man” part is optional)

Speaking of B-movies,  I’d also like to bring back some phrases from the era of black and white cinema, when you knew who the good guys were by the words they shouted, and you didn’t have all that pesky moral ambiguity you see in indie films. Have fun and make the travails of your workaday life into a melodrama!

  • For instance, when the waitress at Denny’s brings you a Grand Slam instead of the Moons Over My Hammy you ordered, bang your fist on the table, stand up and yell”This is an outrage!” It’s best to have one of your friends warm up the car if you feel this about to happen, as you’ll most likely need to move to a different restaurant.
  • Another standby from the movies works like this–someone has told you something you KNOW is wrong…all you need is one word–“LIAR!” The bank teller says you’re overdrawn? Look at her and loudly proclaim “LIAR!” The pompous twink at the Gap says something isn’t made in your size? “LIAR!” (note: this is most effective if said while pointing at the offending party)

Lastly, on the topic of name-calling…ever felt hamstrung by the fact that you reallyreallyreally wanted to call someone a name, but ‘dick’ seemed a little too eighth-grade, and, if a woman was the object of your scorn, well you just didn’t have the time in that moment to navigate shifting waters of feminist theory to determine whether you could use that particular word? Here are some possibilities:

  • Rapscallion–good to bring out in a bar fight, perhaps…if that doesn’t make them back down, try ‘wastrel‘.
  • Chowderhead–this has the advantage of being gender-neutral, with a certain upper-class sensibility…you can up the ante byprefacing it with “Now listen here, you”.
  • Ninnyhammer–now this is a multi-tasking insult–not only does it say to people  ‘I need four syllables to describe your incompetence,’ but it also sounds like the name of the tool with which you would hit them.

I’m sure I’ll think of some others…oh yeah…here–I wrote it down on this…no wait–now I just had it…oh, bother!

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Posted 7 May 2011 by goodwriting in category "IT'S WHAT I DO