Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Is this too strong for you?

"Venus of the Rags," by Michelangelo Pistoletto
     My mother reads this blog, faithfully. Which has never caused me a moment's embarrassment. Until, well, maybe today. Let's just say, Mom, you might want to skip this one. Agreed? Can we both agree on that? Good. Thanks. It'll make our conversation this afternoon just that much easier.  Besides, it's all about Samuel Johnson. Dull, Georgian stuff. Nothing of interest for mothers here.
     Right ... so, waiting for Mom to push away from the computer ... there ... done. Excellent. Bye Mom. Love you.

     As a fan of Samuel Johnson, I was of course delighted that my favorite magazine, The Economist, named its newest column after the Great Cham of Literature. (The Economist, while sharp and of-the-moment in every other regard, embraces the quaint old- school notion of not using reporters' bylines. The idea being, I suppose, that the newspaper—they call themselves a "newspaper" because magazines are so, I don't know, tawdry—speaks with a unified voice. So its columnists have noms de guerre like "Lexington" and "Bagehot" and "Buttonwood.")
     This Johnson entry (I thought it was recent, but it's from 2015, a hazard of encountering material online) touched upon a subject near to the hearts of all of us working here at everygoddamnday.com: cuss words. Almost immediately, Johnson deems "God damn" as "too strong for American ears." That might explain the mass of readers who haven't been showing up here.
    Not really. To be honest, it probably isn't the blog name.  Very few readers have complained over the past three years—a handful, hard though that may be to believe.  Credit the portmanteau with a lower-case "g" — "goddamn" — as opposed to "God damn." Makes all the difference in the world. Plus the blog is protected by an iron-ribbed pre-emptive putdown of those who might dare to blush at its name.
    While excellently written, The Economist, like all journalism, is not infallible, nor do its columnists have space to explore every tangent. What the Johnson column left out was the idea of context. "Fuck" still shocks on network television, or what's left of it, but is a staple of cable and of course online. I ran into ... (umm Mom, I thought we agreed this isn't interesting for you. Besides, isn't that the doorbell? I believe it is. The neighbor ... with muffins. Hot blueberry muffins. Or maybe that's Dad calling you. Either way, perhaps you should leave off reading at this point, and go have some tea, and we'll both be more comfortable ... truly) ... Hera Lindsay Bird's delightfully dirty new poem, "Keats is Dead so Fuck me From Behind," in two very different places on Twitter within the span of an hour Monday: one, the feed of Gili Bar-Hillel, a translator of Hebrew children's books, who accused me of being sarcastic about a bookstore (I like to see who I'm sparing with) and the second on the feed of Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine (I'd say we're due for the issue on "Fresh Voices from New Zealand," where Bird is safely tucked, for the moment). The wheels come off the poem a bit toward the end, but credit her with the best use of "fuck" in the opening line of a poem since Philip Larkin's "This be the Verse," 
     Where was I? Bad words. "Nigger" is unacceptable in most polite society, but tossed about freely by African-Americans when among themselves, and by the occasional blogger, holding his breath and wondering how it'll fly. And "God damn," while perhaps not showing up in the State of the Union anytime soon, skates by in the general filth and irrelevance of the online world. 
    Or so it seems to me.
    And Mom, really. I'm surprised at you. We'll discuss it later.


8 comments:

  1. The Lindsey Bird poem is indeed delightful, less for its shock value than for summoning up so many literary biographical references. And I am grateful for the link to the (current) Johnson piece, partticulaly for his revelations about the sly use of homonyms by otherwise pure-in=heart advertisers.

    A minor quibble, but your use of "goddam" is probably not a portmanteau, but the accepted usage in the original Johnson's time,as in "Goddamn me Jack,she's wondrous fair," a line from Jonathan Swift's "The Progress of Beauty."

    The notion of shielding your Mom - or any woman - from indelicate language is becoming increasingly quaint. We are a long way from the time when Mark Twain, on hearing a woman swearing said, "She's got the words, but she ain't got the music."

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think Bird's poem goes way beyond cuss words, but it reminds me of the officers at Tongue Point, Oregon's mothball fleet, to which flocked various foreign Navy personnel to pick up cheap ships, discussing the use or overuse of the word "fuck." They wanted us sailors to tone it down a lot, lest the foreigners think Americans were in the habit of having sexual intercourse with waste baskets, old shoes, dirty hats, and even screwdrivers and hammers.

    john

    ReplyDelete
  3. So of course I had to read the poem, and the part that caused me to cloth the pearls was
    "Bosnian folk song"
    WTF? What does that have to do with copulating while thinking of dead poets?

    ReplyDelete
  4. sorry, that's clutch the pearls, not cloth.

    ReplyDelete
  5. my mom once asked me if i could convince my 2 young sons not to swear . they were like 10 and 6. i told her i felt it was my job to teach them to swear, and maybe she could consider it hers to teach them when it was appropriate. fine young men that they are now, she recently mentioned not having heard them swear in years

    ReplyDelete
  6. Uh, that "latest Johnson entry" is from January, 2015. There have been a few more since then.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You're welcome. Nice job on the contextual aspect of "cuss words." Reminds me of the old nickname for "garrison cap" in the military, never spoken in polite company. But it was spoken casually, with no vulgar intent and little snickering, like FUBAR and SNAFU.

    So here's an old Chicago joke for you, maybe you've already heard it; feel free to delete in order to maintain decorum...

    Q: There are three streets in Chicago that rhyme with vagina. Name them.
    A: Paulina, Melvina, and Lunt.

    ReplyDelete