Friday, August 13, 2010

If Saturday night’s all right for fighting, can Friday night be all right for cursing?, or, Oh, no--another &*@#@(! blog post!

Though I’ve never claimed that this is a family blog--you thousands of teenage fans hear that? Time to leave here and go back to Pingu!--I do tend to refrain from swearing most of the time. It’s just not part of my writing voice, so I don’t do much of it in print.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate some blue language, a bit of salt with my substance, especially when delivered by a master. {Scroll down on that one to the bottom of the post for July 8, 2000. You’ll be glad you did.} And over the past ten days, I’ve encountered a handful of oddities relating to swearing that have led to this batch of not particularly well-connected notes.

1 It started with an entry in Kinsgley Amis’s idiosyncratic, chatty style and usage guide, The King’s English (1997). The entry, “Four-letter words,” included this passage:
I have forgotten when I first said or made a character say fuck in print, but no one seemed to notice or care, any more than they did when my son Martin used the word several dozen times in one page in a novel published in 1978.
The swipe at Martin reminded me of a footnote to a piece Martin wrote about J. G. Ballard back in 1997: he noted that Kingsley would give a writer one bad book before giving up on them. “His son,” Martin wrote, “he gave two.” If, however, Kingsley was counting swear words in 1978--Success, it must have been--then it seems he subjected himself to at least three of Martin’s novels before bagging it.

2 All of which makes me unable to resist sharing an incident from Zachary Leader’s biography of Kingsley that I first noted a couple of years ago: once when Kingsley fell asleep on a beach, his wife wrote on his ample stomach in lipstick,
One Fat Englishman. Will Fuck Anything.
A writer for the Literary Review who reviewed the biography characterized Kingsley’s guiding philosophy in terms that match those in vulgarity and ethos both:
If it moves, fuck it. If it doesn’t, drink it.
It almost makes Martin’s protagonist in The Rachel Papers seem upstanding and honorable.

3 Earlier in the week, profanity played a part in a crucial series between the then first-place Cincinnati Reds and my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, who trailed the Reds by one game as they entered the series. Asked before the first game whether a sore leg might keep him out of the game, Reds second baseman Brandon Philips had this to say:
I'd play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they're little bitches, all of 'em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear--I hate the Cardinals.
This, as you might have expected, got the Cardinals a bit fired up, which resulted in a bench-clearing brawl in Tuesday’s game--and, more important, a masterful sweep of the series by the Cards.

None of which would merit mention on this blog, had the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s deputy managing editor not gone to the trouble a few days later of explaining why the paper decided to print the quote as uttered, swear words and all. The explanation is interesting, as is editor Steve Parker’s note that a search of the archives returned hundreds of uses of the word “bitch” in recent decades--which surprised me (and, it seems, him), given how squeamish American newspapers are about swearing.

Newspapers like the Cincinnati Enquirer, for example, which riddled Phillips’s quote with so many evasions that it begins to sound like they’re a kid telling the teacher about somethind bad they heard Brandon say on the playground:
I hate the Cardinals. All they do is (b-word) and moan about everything, all of them, they're little (b-words), all of 'em.
None of which, however, matches up to the bowdlerization once performed on a quote from Cardinals reliever Steve Kline--it’s Item #3 in this post.

Oh, and Brandon Phillips? He went 2 for 14 in the series. Oops.

4 The only suitable way to end this post is by sending you to this Wikipedia entry, which demonstrates yet again, should you still need to be convinced, the useless glory that can result from the combination of free time, obsession, and the Internet.

Have a great fucking weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that. It was well received.