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Galanty Miller Headshot

Only I Didn't Say Fudge (or: The Sociology of Profanity)

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It's hypocritical to condemn something that you yourself do. That's why I never criticize people for having sex in Arby's bathroom stalls. And so I feel a bit guilty about my hatred of profanity. Admittedly, I'm occasionally prone to using salty language -- when I hurt myself or I'm angry or I'm joking around with nuns. But I'm not proud of it. It's like when I finish the bag of Fritos, throw it away, and then an hour later take the bag out of the trash to pillage through the bottom of the bag for crumbs; yeah, I do it, but I don't brag about it. But using dirty words is, by logical definition, to brag that you use dirty words. And that's not something of which to be proud.

When people swear, they sound trashy. They sound uneducated and empty and coarse. And it reeks of desperation. Why would anyone aspire to sound like the boyfriends on 16 and Pregnant?

I'm not a socioeconomic snob. This is not about money. I've met poor people who never swear. I've met wealthy people who swear all the time... even when they're skiing in Aspen!

The Dalai Llama is poor. His words are poetry. The Real Housewives of New Jersey are rich. They scream the "F" word a lot. Who sounds more like they actually have something to say?

And I don't want to hear about George Carlin. Yes, he was brilliant and he used profanity on stage. But for Carlin, dirty words weren't the punchline. Rather, he was fascinated with language itself. Carlin's comedy, in regards to profanity, came from the ridiculousness of designating certain words as "taboo." But swearing isn't taboo anymore. We're surrounded by profanity now. You can't escape it. Not even George Carlin's famous "seven words you can't say on television" routine applies anymore. You can say most of those words on network TV now. Heck, you can show a guy swearing his head off while cutting another guy's head off... as long as they're not naked, because the human body is dirty and shameful. Thank God we still have some standards of decency.

Words are simply letters put together in a way that is pronounceable to human beings who don't have thick Boston accents. And society randomly, subjectively deems some of these words as "bad." Objectively, the words feces and dung and excrement all mean the same thing- they're simply ways to describe Steven Seagal's film career. In fact, there are about two dozen other ways to also describe the end result of a bowel movement. But yet there is one particular word defined as fecal matter that you're not supposed to say. And so everyone says it. And so it has no emotional impact or rebellious connotation anymore. Instead, it's just word pollution.

There must be at least four or five hundred words in the English dictionary- one more if you count "Belieber." Aside from the crassness of profanity, it just sounds stupid. With so many fabulotastic words to choose from, to just keep repeating these same five curse words over and over- as nouns, as verbs, as adjectives, as adverbs, as Facebook statuses- makes one sound ignorant of his or her native tongue. I mean, you're an adult now. If you can't come up with more words to tell someone to shut the something up, then you should probably just shut the gizzard up.

Actually, most swear words, in the context of the sentence in which they're spoken, don't require an alternate word. Just leave the bad word out and the statement maintains its meaning. For example, let's say we replace your typical curse word with current United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "My vilsacking boss is a mothervilsacking liar. I'm so sick of his lying bullsack. If that worthless sackhole thinks he can just ruin and vilsack up my weekend by making me come into work on a mothervilsacking Saturday, then he can just suck on my vilsack." It sounds ridiculous, right? Why are you throwing in all these random words that have nothing to do with the message that you're trying to convey? Swearing makes you sound like a mental patient. It sounds much more coherent if you simply say, "My boss is a liar. I'm so sick of his lies. If he thinks he can ruin my weekend by making me come into work on a Saturday, then he can just suck on my ball sack." Isn't that better?

Profanity is not "cultural." That's a cop-out. It is of no racial, ethnic, religious, generational, or regional "culture" to come up with a naughty term for sexual intercourse and then use it to describe what the guy who just cut you off in traffic should do to himself. This, along with violence, discrimination, and cooking shows, exemplifies a lack of culture.

Sometimes, people use profanity to be "cool." Yet, in the history of the planet, has swearing ever made anyone cool? I would argue that it makes one much less cool. I mean, if you replace James Dean with Andrew "Dice" Clay, then Rebel Without A Cause becomes a Farrelly brothers comedy.

I'm a big fan of Bill Maher's HBO show. It's a cool show because it's intelligent, witty conversation. But when political pundits come on the show and use curse words in the hope of sounding hip, it's not cool. Instead, it's like the old guys in strip clubs who wear their collars up and talk to the dancers about Macklemore videos. It's an undignified suck-up to the audience: "I'm hip because I swore." Yes, it's HBO. But just because you can swear, it doesn't mean you have to. It's HBO. You can also show your genitals. So c'mon, Salman Rushdie, show us your junk!

When actress Melissa Leo won an Academy Award for her performance in the 2010 film The Fighter, she "accidentally", threw out the F-bomb. It wasn't cool. It was just so phony. If you're a professional performer, and you're knowingly speaking to millions of people, and you seriously can't control your ability to use appropriate language, then you're mentally ill. U2 lead singer Bono once swore during a televised acceptance speech. If celebrities are truly in shock and unaware of the circumstances, how come famous people never accidentally urinate themselves on TV? If that ever happened, I'd say, "Yeah, okay. That was definitely spontaneous."

And yet as prolific as social profanity has become, it's not even close to what you hear at the movies. Why do filmmakers insist upon so much swearing? Geez, I counted the F-word fifteen times while sitting through Walt Disney's Frozen. (Though, in fairness, the word wasn't used in the film itself. Rather, I was sitting next to former Vice-President Dick Cheney.)

Do movie studios think profanity attracts audiences? "Oh, man, the new Scarlett Johansson movie is so hot. During the shower scene, she goes full frontal potty mouth."

I'm heard filmmakers say they use a lot of profanity in their films for "realism." The Wolf of Wall Street contains no less than 506 F-words. I've been to Wall Street. I've never heard any stock broker say the F-word 506 times in three hours. And in real life, the stock brokers aren't an hour too long. There have been other movies about stock trading. When you watched those films, did you think, "I'm having trouble suspending my state of disbelief because the characters aren't cursing enough?"

This is literally the opening dialogue from Oscar-nominated screenplay American Hustle...

(spoiler alert: The movie sucked.)

RICHIE DIMASO

What are you doing, going behind my back? Telling people I'm screwing
up this operation? I got you a suite at the fuckin' Plaza Hotel!

IRVING ROSENFELD

The shittiest suite at the Plaza Hotel.

RICHIE DIMASO

What?!

IRV ROSENFELD

The shittiest fuckin' suite.

Isn't that realistic? No, but it's more realistic than the American Hustle screenplay being nominated for an Oscar. I'll never understand why critics liked this movie? Was it the hair?

Yes, I loved Scarface and The Big Lebowski. But those films used profanity with a purpose. Plus, they were good movies; they earned their language.

A few years ago, a 14-year-old boy named McKay Hatch, uncomfortable with all this cussing, started a movement to clean up the language. He received death threats. Death threats! Pardon my French, but et puis zut?! This kid isn't running a dog-fighting ring. He simply wants to encourage people to speak in a more civilized manner. I suspect that most death threats contain a lot of profanity. And I suspect the sort of idiot who makes anonymous death threats is the sort of person who uses a lot of profanity. There's probably a lot of swearing in prison. But if I get sent to prison, I will politely ask my cellmate to curb his offensive language while pummeling me.

Anyway, I feel bad for this Hatch kid. When I was 14, I certainly didn't have the courage or wherewithal to start a movement. On the other hand, I also didn't swear much when I was that young. I mostly just played Frogger.

When a comedian swears a lot on stage, it's described as "going blue." This term derives from an old-time comedian named Max Miller (not a relative), who offered his audience a choice; he would tell jokes from either his white book or his blue book. The blue book had all the dirty jokes. My hunch is that the audience usually chose the blue book, laughed at the shocking nature of the jokes, and then later on regretted their choice. Though, in fairness, the jokes in the white book were probably pretty crappy, too. Nobody remembers Max Miller.

Interestingly, if a musician plays the blues, the song lyrics are generally pretty clean. When the song lyrics are dirty, that's called "rapping."

Sometimes toddlers and very young children curse. People think this is hysterical. I don't. I just think it's depressing. It wasn't so long ago that America watched Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Now we're living it. Though when toddlers fall down that, that's sort of amusing.

Children swear because they hear their parents swear. Can we at least agree that profanity is an adult thing, for adults? Can you at least control yourself around children? Do you watch porn with your kids, too?

A common incentive in profanity self-control is the "swear jar." As an incentive to clean up one's language, every time you curse, you have to put a dollar into the swear jar. In my kitchen, we have a swear/drunkenly calling up ex-girlfriends in the middle of the night jar. It's filled to the top. There must be at least three-hundred bucks in there. Though as I mentioned previously, I don't swear very often.

Profanity isn't shocking anymore. It's not edgy or sassy or hip or rebellious. It's just a sad, tiresome example of our shrinking vocabulary. Thanks, Twitter. People swear when they have nothing to say, but they want to talk. My feeling? You're not getting paid by the word and you're not a sailor. So keep it simple.

Unless you are a sailor. Then swear a way! I'm a traditionalist.