Friday, May 13, 2011

Swearing Is A Really Important Part of One's Life

(X-Posted at FanSci)

Stephen Fry explains here what I have often told those among my students who explain to me sweetly that swearing is a sign of a limited vocabulary or a lack of imagination: yeah, really, not so much.

In fact, as I point out to students (usually earnest religious freshmen) who tell me this, it is those with the largest vocabularies and the most education among my acquaintence who tend to cuss the most and the mostly foully. So go figure.

That being said, my kid was working on a SF story the other day and came to me with the question that haunts all writers of SF: "Ma. How would people cuss inthe future?"

Now this is a problem.

Because it is true that you don't want your characters just going fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck. That does get dull. The last thing you want is dull cussing. Part of the charm is cussing, like the charm of any writing, is variety and imagination. Also, well, we do mix it up. New cuss words are fun. I remember when I discovered fuckwit and tool. Didn't I love those words?

So you gotta figure that in the future (especially if you move far into the future) the way and the means by which your culture will cuss will be different than the ways and the means by which our current culture cusses. We're all into fuck and shit, here in the early part of the 21st century, plus a healthy dose of misogyny/misandry (bitch, whore, tool); but in Shakespeare's day, or the Roman's, things were very different. With Shakespeare, it was all blasphemy. Very little fuck this, and very much "God's teeth,""God's wounds" (Or Zounds, for short) "God's blood," and "marry" (Mary), and "go to (the devil)"; though also some misogyny -- "whoreson" and such are common in his plays.

And Roman cussing is violently sexual, or maybe I mean sexually violent? What isn't about farting and shitting and pissing is about rape and who is whose whore. Not so much misogyny/misandry as just misanthropy. As I tell Dr. Skull when we are watching Rome or Spartacus and he asks whether the Romans were actually like this, The Romans were very bad people, and the fact that the GOP keeps wanting to compare themselves to that culture tells you all you really need to know about the GOP.

So what you need to think about is what's powering your culture -- what's their central engine, what matters most to them? -- as religion powered Shakespeare's world, as sex and shame powers ours (and money, but where is the cussing about money? Hmm), as power and dominance powered the Roman culture: then your culture should make their vile words, their taboo-breaking insults, around those topics.

Also: cuss words in my exerpience are generally short words with hard consonants at at least one end, and short vowels in the middle. Not invariable, obviously. But often. Just saying.

Go, and cuss some more.

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