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Marissa Lingen

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4th St. swearing panel annex [Jun. 26th, 2013|08:16 am]
Marissa Lingen

I will get to my full and real 4th St. con report in a bit. But this year “That’s Another Panel” turned out to be a panel on swearing, and I realized I had more to say.

1. I have no idea how I managed to get through an entire panel on swearing without commending Bon Cop, Bad Cop to everyone’s attention. I do so now. The lesson in the uses of the Quebecois swear word “tabernac” is extremely instructive and amusing. Also the rest of the movie is great fun. Go thou etc.

2. I have heard people, even one otherwise very smart person, claiming that you could tell someone’s Real True Beliefs by how they swore–specifically, this otherwise-smart person told me when I was an adolescent that you could tell that atheists really believed in Christianity deep down, because they would say things like, “God damn you,” and would find it ridiculous to say, “Donald Duck damn you.” And I said to myself, “By Jove, he might have something there!” No. No, he did not have something there, and no, the late Victorian period was not filled with a resurgence in sincere devotion to the father of the Roman gods. Swearing, like all other language and proto-linguistic kipple, is highly, highly cultural. If your secondary world characters have grown up around people who say, “Oh, Blaxnorg!” when they step on a rake, they too are likely to say, “Oh, Blaxnorg!” even if they think Blaxnorg is a sham, or even if they think he’s kind of a wimpy god and they’ll do much better with Blarzoosh. Conversely, if Blarzoosh is a forbidden god, they are not likely to swear by her aloud even if they believe with a deep and heartfelt faith.

You can make all sorts of arguments for how people swear in a secondary world fantasy. If you have imagined highly interventionist gods, people might be more careful, or they might mean different things by swearing than you do, since you do not expect Jesus Christ to appear and cart some household object off to hell simply because you were unwary enough to say, “Oh, Jesus Christ, what is this damn thing doing in the middle of the stairs? I could have broken my neck!” Or you might well be careful about your own god, who has been known to grant petitions of yours, but swear freely by a neighboring god, who never did a thing for you. My point here is: swearing and belief: it’s complicated. Do not oversimplify in your writing. Do not oversimplify in your reading.

3. The Biblical prohibitions on swearing are on blasphemy and oaths, not on vulgarity. Many modern Christian subcultures have the idea that good Christians ought not to say “shit,” but in fact that’s because of purity codes/laws, the more general idea that your body–including your mouth and/or typing fingers–should be a temple, not because anyone writing any book of the Bible anticipated modern English bodily function language and divided the poops from the shits, with the former as sheep and the latter goats. Elise mentioned swearing as making a crank call to the Almighty, and I love that metaphor. That’s more or less completely separate from purity codes, and replicating the “religious groups should have neither in their language” divide from this specific moment in our culture when imagining religious groups in a completely different universe is weird and limiting and probably oughtn’t to be done without a good reason.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: txanne
2013-06-26 02:05 pm (UTC)
had I but been there, I would have filled the gap. The movie itself is kind of dumb, but the sociolinguistics are SO FAB.
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[User Picture]From: jenett
2013-06-26 02:14 pm (UTC)
Yes, on all of this.

I've actually been thinking about this a lot, because Alternity, over the years, has developed a lot of cultural swears (and other slang), and it's been fascinating to see what hits everyone in the right place. (And it's something that has taken years to develop, too.)

And which ones people use in which cases, and around which people. (We have at least three or four characters whose swearing gets multi-layered if they're with people they're relaxed around/close to in complicated ways. Like people do.)

My favourite from there remains "Mordred's Mercy", I think, but we have a lot of other really great ones.
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From: tournevis
2013-06-26 02:28 pm (UTC)
Tabarnac! is a great word. As well as a heartfelt Câliss! I agree with you on Bon Cop Bad Cop and on your analysis of swearing/vulgarity.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2013-06-26 05:11 pm (UTC)
Will have to look for that think about tabernac.

I did a post a couple years back on swearing, after reading a number of books on the subject. So very much cultural baggage in it!

Think about the assumptions in "bastard." "Tosser." "SOB"

When is swearing insult? Even refined insult can cut deep. Like in Jane Austen's day, calling someone a fine lady was no compliment.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-06-26 05:21 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, both insult and compliment are very contextually dependent. If some enthusiastic but clueless young person said to my mom, "Mrs. L., you're @#%& awesome!", she would blink and smile mechanically and thank them, but it would almost certainly not be the compliment the person intended it to be--no matter which "cuss word" had filled in the @#%&.

And part of the compliment/insult/neither question is explicitly dependent on what is valued, of course. When I was in school, my mom was just sure that I needed to change my clothes--even if it was just to other clothes of similar formality--when going out to a party or a date or a group activity after school, to demonstrate to the people I was going with that I valued their company and would think about what I was wearing for it. But to my cohort, trying too hard was possibly the cardinal sin--unless it was for something of a wildly different level of formality (putting on comfortable clothes after a debate tournament or changing out of jeans for the homecoming dance), changing clothes meant you'd spilled something on your previous clothes. It was not valued and not a sign of valuing others--people would have been baffled to think of it that way.
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From: dsgood
2013-06-26 10:21 pm (UTC)
Next you'll be claiming that people label themselves as atheists but use the word "Goodbye" don't really believe in God. From etymonline.com: good-bye
also goodbye, good bye, good-by, 1590s, from godbwye (1570s), itself a contraction of God be with ye (late 14c.), influenced by good day, good evening, etc.
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[User Picture]From: scott_lynch
2013-06-27 02:55 am (UTC)
This entire post is just a gigantic conspiracy to get people to start yelling "DONALD DUCK DAMN IT!" in public, isn't it?

Well, may Donald and his nephews eat your eyeballs in hell! It's working!
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-06-28 04:36 am (UTC)
Part of this reminds of a talk I heard by Stephen Pinker.
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