Monday, October 23, 2006

F*ck You, Too

One would think that, after roughly a decade of expressing myself through the art of the expletive, I would be used to the fascination people have with curse words. This is not by any means the case. I just spent the past twenty minutes breathing more cigarette smoke than air, teaching Spanish college students the fine points of swearing in English and being completely baffled by how much they relished it.

Why do we automatically gravitate towards learning the curses of a new language when we discover it? One thought is that maledictions are literally universal. Even fictional continuities have their own sets of curses: Joss Whedon’s Firefly has “gorram,” Battlestar Galactica’s “frack” has been all but embraced by those familiar with the show, and Star Wars and its outlying fictions boast a galaxy’s worth of insults and expletives. If curses were less than important in the eyes of humanity, why would writers bother to think them up? Moreover, why would so many fans bother to learn them?

One could certainly argue that knowing what pejorative bombs to drop and when is part of assimilating into any culture. After all, how can anyone hope to become a full-fledged member of the [insert nationality modifier here] community without knowing how to express oneself in traffic? Perfectly pulling off a rude hand gesture is, in a way, like executing a perfect acrobatic dive or gymnastic move: you show everyone that not only do you know precisely what you’re doing, thanks very much, but that you also do it with style. At least until the recipient of said gesture chases you down and adds their physical commentary to your own.

My theory remains that the human interest in cursing is born of social paranoia and the innate need to establish a hierarchy. Trying to speak a new language is particularly daunting because of the natural self-consciousness of the learner, and part of that is the nettling worry that the native speakers may be making fun of you. Knowing the worst words they could possibly use and not hearing them provides some degree of comfort.

In addition to this, a working knowledge of the so-called fighting words of any idiom helps establish one’s place in the social pack. This is not to say that the one who can curse the best (or worst) deserves some kind of award. However, cursing does give the impression that a person has reached adulthood, or at least adolescence. Films are graded according to the level of maturity the audience requires to reasonably process the film in question, and language is a prime criterion of this grading. An otherwise innocent film with one simple “Fuck” slipped in will automatically garner the brand of heightened maturity, requiring parents to accompany their children to showings. Children will often make a point of learning curse words as a way of imitating older siblings or friends who swear due to an understandable, if flawed, jump in logic: if big kids cuss, then those who cuss must be big kids.

For whatever reason, cursing is a part of every type of language and culture.



Fuck that shit, TVG

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1 Comments:

Blogger Nuclear Siafu said...

I dunno about social status and all that. It seems to me that cursing is the result of every culture needing to convey important information quickly and clearly such as, "Seriously, fuck that guy."

10:57 AM  

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