Is Profanity Dead?


I suspect, if you spend any time on Facebook at all, that you will have noticed the proliferation of the F word.  I first heard this as a spoken word 60 years ago, when I was 15, and then it was another 20 or so before I heard it said aloud again.  (I led a very sheltered life, obviously).  And today?  Self-disclosure here – I have been known to use the word usually only in the company of friends who also, at least from time to time, use it as well.


When I did an internship in New York City while doing my Masters at Fordham, I had an internship in a New York City experimental high school.  That was where I got completely desensitized to the word since it was used by the students as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a preposition, a gerund, an invocation, and when I finally heard someone say “fanfuckingtastic” without flinching, I knew I had adapted.  I was reinforced in this belief when one student told me to “Go F yourself” when I told him that he couldn’t get into a class that he wanted, and I responded with a smile and said, “Anatomically difficult”.


So, if the infamous F word doesn’t raise eyebrows anymore, what do we replace it with?  Swear words do tend to demonstrate cultural preoccupations especially concerning matters that are considered taboo, so we find much of the English profanity preoccupied with sexual matters, while the French have a tendency to swear using religious expressions.  But, profanity changes over time.  The Victorians monitored their language to such a degree that they didn’t refer to “bulls”, but rather spoke of gentleman cows; they couldn’t refer to legs at all, hence the term limb, (including piano limbs); and of course, no one ever went to bed for fear of what nasty images that might arouse.  Instead, they retired for the evening. 19th Century England would have found “mewling quim” excessively vulgar whereas today, we probably don’t know the meaning of either word.  And in the 16th century, the word “occupy” was used to mean sexual penetration, so the phrase “Occupy Wall Street” has a whole new meaning.


Melissa Mohr, the author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing the use of profane language, from ancient Roman times to the present writes: “When they lose power, it’s just those taboos getting weaker, and new ones coming in to replace them.”


The internet, cable, and R rated films have normalized much of the previous 20th century “bad words”.  It is no longer (at least in Western society) forbidden to talk about sex, or religion.  These topics have been replaced by taboos centering on race (hence the N word), people with disabilities (called anyone retarded lately?), or people with disabilities.


So, it is my proposal that we need a whole new category of swear words, and I would like to begin this exploration by offering three possible contenders- words that will serve in periods of stress and anger; words to use when folks cut you off in traffic, go through an express checkout line with one hundred and fifty six different items, or who talk on their cell phones so loudly that not only the audience but members of the cast can hear them.


We need words that are so emotionally charged that the very act of uttering them will lower our blood pressure, free our systems from all negative energy, and let the doofus on the receiving end know with great certainty that he has pushed us past all reasonable limits of human endurance.


So, I propose the following.  Since the “F” word, sadly, has outlived its ability to shock and horrify, it needs to be replaced.  Teens use it as a casual greeting; comedians use it as an intensifier, and seniors of both gender persuasions have been heard using it on golf courses.  To return to the fundamental role of a cuss word – namely, to shock and horrify, I’d suggest, a much more contemporary word – Audit!  Some goof nearly runs you down in a crosswalk?  Instead of screaming the F word at them, try, “Well, Audit you, buddy!”


The “S” word is even less shocking.  Although it comprised one of George Carlin’s Seven Words You’re Not Allowed to Use on Television, it has clearly run its course as a major offender.  Instead, I suggest that we substitute the word Tax.  Like the “S” word, it is amenable to having modifiers.  So, where it was possible to have bovine or equine “S”, it will now be possible to use Income or Property, or Sales as our modifying expletive of choice.  The possibilities are so much richer. After all, once you finished with bull or horse, what other kind of significant “S” was there?   So, when someone asks you how you like, oh, say the Federal Liberals, you can look them in the eye, spit, and exclaim, “Carbon Tax!”


And finally, in third spot is something that can replace the “A” word which does not appear in print in respectable publications.  That word is Toque.  Think of the possibilities.  “What a Toque!”   “Audit that Toque!”  And of course, “Toque Tax”.  Although it is a Canadian word, and Canadians are notoriously polite, it will give everyone the opportunity to experience true bi-culturalism.  And if you don’t agree, then as Bob and Dave Mackenzie might say, “Toque off, eh?”