Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sentence Enhancers


Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the Neil Patrick Harris of blogs!

Today, I want to talk about language.

Bad language.

Before we get started, a word of caution: this post will involve the use of such words as "hell", "damn" and "freaky-darn".

Also "fuck".

Several times.


I grew up in a small town in a Baptist family with the prerequisite idea that there were a number of things that God would smite me for. Stealing and killing seemed to be no-brainers and I had no plans to steal from and/or kill somebody. Issues involving pre-marital and extra-marital sex did not concern me in that I did not expect to have any sex ever. But language? That one scared me.

If you have a moment of anger or fear or frustration, an ill-chosen word could send you down the super-highway straight into hell. And as a young person, I had a LOT to be angry about, fearful of and frustrated by. Yet I was so afraid of using "cuss words" that I developed a whole alternate vocabulary of swearing.

The one I went to most often was "freaky-darn". Yeah, it sounded as stupid as you think. "I'm so mad that I have to do this freaky-darn homework when it's such a nice freaky-darn evening and I just want to go outside and ride my freaky-darn bike instead of being stuck in this freaky-darn room doing freaky-darn homework that makes me want to punch a freaky-darn wall!"

Freaky-darn, I was such a tool.

My mom was so hard on me about keeping my language clean, I couldn't even use the word "swear". If I said, "I really did do my freaky-darn homework, I swear!", my mom would admonish me that the word "swear" was as bad as a swear word. She apparently had no problem with "freaky-darn".

One expression I slipped into while in college was "dildonic", sometimes "dildohead". OK, I was a naïve (very, VERY naïve) person who did not know what a "dildo" was. (Sorry, the subject of dildos never came up in Sunday School.)  It was a very embarrassing moment when I found out what a dildo was.

Geez, I could be so dildonic.

I eventually allowed myself to incorporate "hell" and "damn" into my vocabulary. I figured it was OK when Superman once said something made him "mad as hell". And there is a raw energy when certain words are used that is not present when those words are absent. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" from the movie Network would not have the same intensity of frustration if one simply said, "I'm mad". How mad? How deeply is this anger felt? How passionate are you about the subject of your rage? It doesn't get in deeper, any more inflamed than "hell".

When Rhett Butler tells Scarlett O'Hara that, "Quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", there is no doubt to Rhett's state of mind. He doesn't care anymore and he's lost patience and interest in trying to care when all he finds is trouble and heartache. He could say all that. Or "I don't give a damn" which conveys all that with an economy of words. It drives the stake hard and deep into the heart of whatever still existed between Rhett and Scarlett.

One of the more laughable scenes I witnessed in an effort to avoid bad language (other than my real life usage of "freaky-darn") was in an issue of the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. I was in college and DC was re-releasing these stories in a slick paper format so it was a chance for me to catch up on this series I had heard so much about.  There's a story where Black Canary is angry over some danger Green Arrow was in; Black Canary yells at the bad guys, "Let go of him, DARN you!"

Apparently Black Canary was threatening to fix the holes in their socks.

In fact, there was frequent use of the word "Hades" in lieu of "Hell" in comic books and I wasn't sure where the line was. Gerry Conway wrote the JLA issue where Superman said a situation was making him "mad as Hell". A couple of years later in a Superman/Batman story, Conway's script has characters say "Hades" instead of "Hell." I imagine that was more than likely editorial interference. (Even then, people; even then.)

The thing about language and when to use or not use certain words depends on the speaker as well as the audience. I once heard a preacher say during a sermon, "Too many people don't give a damn about the people Jesus told us to help and more of you are more concerned with the fact I just said 'damn' than the message." The church replaced him not long after that which was a damn shame.

But the point is sometimes the answer is "No" and sometimes it's "Hell, No!". The distinction is important to our meaning but we must consider the intended audience. This is extremely important as we move into coarser language.

For example, let's talk about the word "fuck".

This is a word that entered my vocabulary late in life but I have found it to be extremely useful in so many ways.  Check out this video for more on the versatility of this word. But I think it's overused and ultimately reflects a lack of imagination to come up with something better. It's not about being a prude or morally superior but if you can't string 3 or more words together without tossing "fuck" in there, you're diminishing the power and authority of what you say as well undermining the usefulness of the word. For example, I noted that Rhett Butler telling Scarlet O'Hara "Quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" was brilliant in that it carried a lot of weight and information about Rhett's state of mind with an economy of words. But consider this: Rhett Butler could get to the same point with only two word: "Fuck you."  But would that be as effective? No, sometimes an economy of words is too short and it focuses on the shock value of the expression and not the true feeling of the message.

On the other hand, a well placed use of the word can encapsulate so much about a character in a short turn of phrase. Let's say you have an action movie where our hero or heroine has just been getting the short end of the stick from some psychopathic serial killing maniac who loves to run off at the mouth with this long winded soliloquies about why he does what he does. Finally the bad guy is cornered and our protagonist has his forehead in the crosshairs but wants to give our bastard villain a message before he's sent on this expressway to hell. Your choices:

A: "Before I kill you, I wish to take a moment to express how tiresome and offensive I found your words and actions to be in as strong a way possible."

B: "Fuck you!"

Yeah, of course it's B and bonus points if the person deliverer of the succinct message is a straight arrow type who has been pushed past the breaking point to deliver this bad guy to justice or the grave.

On the other hand, the expectations of your audience must be considered. If no one has said so much as a "hell" or a "damn", I think the word "fuck" appearing at the end of the movie, speech, book, play or what have you is going to be a bit out of place.

When I first went on Facebook, I felt constrained. No, I don't want to say "fuck" or even "damn" or "hell" all the time. But there were times when I felt frustrated and I needed to express that. Or if I had rather funny bit that needed a "sentence enhancer" (thank you, Patrick from SpongeBob, for that term). So when I went on Twitter (and subsequently started this blog), I did not restrict myself. I wasn't going to just gratuitously toss around cuss words to sound tougher or more hip or whatever. But if something was messed up so badly that I was ticked off about it and I wanted to express that with the sentiment that "This is so fucked up", I should be able to do so.

My rule of thumb is, if I feel uncomfortable with the use of a word, then I imagine a reader would too. A few weeks ago I did a post on the subject of people already going to Iowa to start running for President in 2016. I used the phrase "You've got to be fucking kidding me." But it didn't feel right. The level of passion I felt on this topic was not quite that great. I think it's stupid that people might be running for a 2016 election in the summer of 2013 but am I really that angry about it? So I went back and changed it to "freaking kidding me" and that felt right. 

However, on another post for Broken News, I did a comment on some right wing event where a particular subject was addressed as being both Fascist and Socialist. This is not the first time that's happened. So my comment was, "Once again, I must point out that Fascism and Socialism are diametrically opposing political viewpoints that...oh fuck this!"  I pondered whether I should say, "Forget this" or "I give up" but nothing really expressed my outrage with the ignorance that guides and shapes political discourse like "fuck this". So I stuck with it.

So my view of language is that I should feel free to express myself in that way that I feel best presents that expression but with an eye on my topic and an eye on my audience. For example, Doctor Who Saturdays stays pretty clean for the most part; on the other hand, anything goes for Broken News. For Strange(er) Adventures, I kind of split the difference; I've had gorillas say "damn" but not "fuck". Are my decisions arbitrary? I imagine that sometimes they are. Sometimes I can only go by what I think feels right.

Before I close, I want to present one of two jokes I know that involve the word "fuck".

JUDGE: Mr. Mouse, I cannot grant you divorce from Minnie just because she's crazy."

MICKEY: Your honor, I didn't say she was crazy; I said she was fucking Goofy!"

Thank you and come again!


Dave-El can also be found on Twitter at where his Tweets can be so freaky-darn dildonic.

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