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Expletive Omnibus
Wicked Words by Hugh Rawson
A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms from Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present
1989, Crown, NY, 435 pages
I spent many years of my life as a grunt laborer working with morons for idiots to feed the zombie masses. Through all of those years I recalled, when hearing f-word after f-word after f-word—and even the startling banal artistry of a compound sentence consisting entirely of tenses and usages of the f-word—I would ever recall my Uncle Robert’s dictum, “People use swear words because they are morons; idiots without the requisite vocabulary to express themselves.”
Uncle Robert was either a quadroon [1/4 black] or octoroon [1/8 black]. I wonder how he would feel now that both races that he sprung from in America use the f-word and/or the n-word as a matter of everyday discourse?
For a year or so, when in my 20s, working with a crew of ghetto guys, I began to cuss a lot at work. I made sure not to cuss at home. After a few months I noticed that I did not think as clearly at work. I thought it was the atmosphere. Then I made an effort not to cuss at work. When I stopped all together I began to think more clearly again. I have no idea if this was illusory, or if not, what mechanic in my mind slows my reasoning and curbs my contemplation when I use the f-word and s-word and other emotive abbreviations of the communication process, instead of a more accurate term.
Among whites the word that most often reaches my ears is the f-word. And, anytime the feared blacks are not around, my white male friends over 40 will use the n-word, like it is a sacred relic of the tongue to be savored, some lost word of power.
Among blacks the word I most commonly hear is the one my Uncle Robert considered utterly reprehensible, the n-word. Of course, the second most common word they use is the f-word, which [according to another source]hails back to English longbow men who ‘plucked’ their arrows with their two long fingers turning the threat of their finger work into a gesture of the middle-finger accompanied by ‘pluck you’.
To me, this word, and its m-f compound version, is most interesting. The n-word is just a political/cultural weapon/anthem; an English distortion of the Portuguese word for black; a verbal football. But the f-word is a shared sacred word of power, a curse with the power to lower IQ by its mere utterance. Dungeons & Dragons players take note.
According to Hugh Rawson, the f—word began in England in Shakespeare’s time. The m-f word is a later African American innovation that was first heard by a white person in the 1920s. That such a shared race semantic would be at the tip of every young black hoodlum’s tongue at every moment, and that most equally angry middle-aged white men who bother to comment on the American social climate in my hearing, cannot get through a paragraph without using the f-word, is somewhat ironic.
I was recently listening to Jack Donavon’s Start the World podcast #3. He was speaking with a manliness advocate, a power lifting guru, a ‘prolific blogger’. This man was incapable of putting three sentences together without the f-word. It is nice having such a concise means of determining that the man would not be presenting deeply considered conclusions. I switched off the podcast and ceased to waste my time.
I found myself considering the level of anger—which is generally a reflection of failed contemplation—among those white men that imitate black youth ghetto-speak, even as they rant against the degenerate culture they unconsciously ape. Having little to go on but reflections I accessed Mister Rawson’s seminal work on taboo words and found some answers. It occurred to me then that Hugh Rawson deserves some praise for this dictionary of insults. I have referred to the work often for my historic fiction. But now I see it as a work of importance in its own right; a record of the cyclic evolution and devolution of our collective thought process.
See if you can get a copy. You may not borrow mine. In case Charles ever gets my time machine fixed I want to be certain that I can curse with the utmost alacrity anywhere in the English-speaking world.
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