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On Certain Kinds of Words

by on October 10, 2011

Being a writer, I tend to think about words a lot. (I would make an obligatory joke about Captain Obvious at this point, but I gave myself a promotion. It’s Commander Obvious, thank you. 😛 ) Specifically, some of the words I’ve been thinking about lately are the kind that moms back in the day would’ve washed their kids’ mouths out with soap for saying. You know the ones. The F-bomb. The S-grenade. The B-katana. The A-slingslot. Etc.  And, in thinking about those sorts of words, there’s a couple of observations that come to mind. (Note: I don’t mean this to be some sort of sanctimonious sermon (h’ray alliteration!) I don’t personally say that sort of thing myself, other than the occasional “Holy Hannah in a hailstorm”, but hey, whatever flies your blimp. There’s a lot worse things to complain about in this world.  I’m just making observations. So, with that in mind, what have I observed?

For one thing, I wonder if people are really thinking about the meanings of the words when they say them. Take, for example, the adjective “-as hell”. I heard someone the other day use the phrase “cold as hell”. Now, perhaps that person was making a cleverly subtle reference to Dante’s Inferno, where the ninth circle of hell was a frozen lake of ice. But then I heard someone else say “funny as hell”. ….now, in all the depictions I’ve read or seen of the Bad Place, it doesn’t strike me as particularly comedic.

Or, even more striking, take the mother of all bad words, the F-bomb, or that particular variant which attaches the F-bomb to one’s maternal figure.  It seems like, these days, that word gets tossed around randomly as any part of speech, without a thought for the meaning. Take Samuel L. Jackson’s famous line from that movie about snakes on a place. Now, I won’t speculate on the familial relations of snakes; maybe they do indeed do that with their mothers, I don’t know. But a plane is an inanimate object. It has no mother to….do anything to. That doesn’t even make sense.

I think that’s what bothers me about the whole concept. I can certainly understand the idea of using a forceful word under certain circumstances. (And snakes on a plane, yeah, that would be a pretty dire circumstance.) But these days, people use it in totally casual conversation, as easily dropped in as a punctuation mark. A couple months ago, I happened to hear someone on a bus who evidently believed that the S-grenade was a punctuation mark, and who used it to end pretty much every sentence they said. Possibly every phrase. “I woke up and s*, watched a movie and *, it was real funny and *, I laughed like so hard and s*, then I had to go to work and s*,” and so on, and so forth….

I suppose, if I have any sort of point to make, it’s just that you should be mindful of the words you use. The English language (or every language, really) is a powerful, special, and precious thing, not to be used lightly.  As Henry Higgins once said in My Fair Lady, “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech, that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible. Don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon!”

 

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4 Comments
  1. LOL. Your mention of Snakes on a Plane (which, incidentally, I have not seen) reminded me of one of my favourite (in an “it’s absolutely cheesy and terrible and argh”) parts of the movie Armageddon is when Bruce Willis’s character says, “Let’s CHEW THIS IRON BITCH UP!” Because maaaaaaan oh maaaaan is that meteorite one mother-effin’ biaaatch!

    To be honest, I love to swear. I really really do. I swear at ants, I swear at bits of paper that fall from my fingers when I don’t want them to. I swear at wisps of my hair when they won’t sit properly in place. I swear at my work computer (sometimes at my home one too). In short, I swear a lot, I’ve got a mouth like a pirate (minus the rotten teeth) and I don’t plan on changing any of that. Still, I agree that people should probably make sure that what they’re saying makes logical sense before saying it. 😛

    • I haven’t seen Snakes on a Plane either. All I know is that there’s snakes…and they’re on the plane. Which, I gather, is bad.
      See, when you saw you’ve got a mouth like a pirate, I assume that you’re swearing with piratical expletives like “Shiver me timbers!” or “Blast ye, landlubbers!” which would be cool and creative. 😛

  2. You think like me! 😀
    And trust me, until you’ve worked in a takeout in a small, rather dumpish corner of merrie England, you ain’t heard nothin… I feel like shoving a dictionary and a thesaurus at them. Except they would have no idea what to do with said literary companions, and I’d get even more of an earful. SIGH.
    Nice to know someone else feels the same.

    • Well, you could just hurl the said literary companions at them as projectiles, but I doubt throwing things at one’s takeout customers is very good for business….:D

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