Monday, May 21, 2012

One Girl's Journey to Find the Answer

I saw the most bizarre commercial tonight.
Kirstie Allie wearing full-on fairy garb; angel wings as sheer as my sexiest negligee, protruding out of her back like humps on a Stegosaurus. A costume party you might ask?  No, just another one of Ms. Alley’s ways to make ‘bank’ as she promotes Poise bladder leakage control pads.  Perhaps I’m being pre-mature in my sarcasm, as thank God I’m not on the leakage journey yet.
First Jenny Craig and now the ultra thins for that “unexpected wetness.” Thanking God (again), I’m still enjoying the “expected” kind, but when and if there comes a time that I’m “in need”
I can even buy the damn things on Amazon!
You know ladies, most likely, one day we’ll all walk that road with Kirstie and I’ve gotta be honest, the name Poise strikes a cord in me; a cord of dignified admiration.
poise 1 |poiz|
1 graceful and elegant bearing in a person : poise and good deportment can be cultivated.
composure and dignity of manner : at least he had a moment to think, to recover his poise.
2 archaic balance; equilibrium.

Poise and good deportment can be cultivated.   Now, that’s what I’m talking about... 
My own personal dignity of manner has been brought up for discussion over the years.  
Specifically, regarding my use or "over-use" of the word “fuck” in my blogs.  But rather than blow off  you delightful darlings who feel this way by ignoring your opinions, I’ve decided to, in a very poised and dignified manner, seek the opinion of an educated, qualified woman to help me determine, if in fact, my language is inappropriate and offensive or, at the very least, I wanna start a dialogue about it.
As someone who is a wee-bit accustomed to hopping up on a soapbox, I, of course, find the
"F-word" quite functional, fun and fucking effective, if used at the right moment; that moment when no other word will say it quite the same.
But, I’m very open to hearing the opinions of others, and though Ellen Etc and I have never met, I interviewed her on this highly important and worthy discussion topic.  Thank-you, Ellen Etc, for your willingness to walk down this road with a complete stranger and madwoman!  Let’s begin a conversation about the "F-word" and one girl’s journey to find an answer…

The Interview (in a slightly condensed, like Campbell’s Tomato version)

Tpg: The F-Word has gotten a bad wrap from some folks and hailed as the "say-all" from others.  Do you think the division is a generational thing?  

Ellen Etc: Yes, primarily. I had a discussion with the young women at work (in their early 20s) who were impatiently saying, “It’s just words. Why do people have to get so upset about it?” This is an argument I lost when I was 13 and tried to use “damn” with my parents. It was pointed out that context is significant, and that while a bathing suit is fine for the beach, it’s not so much for church or Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house, even though the minister can say “damned” in a sermon.
Advocating for the uncensored use of “fuck” is akin to saying that clothing is clothing, so what difference does it make if I wear a bikini or a “Pussy Power” t-shirt to work?
While existentially it doesn’t matter, it does indicate that the user puts their own self-expression above their employer’s interests, and even their own chances for a better job. It’s individualism at the expense of making compromises for the good of a community. People who are unwilling to compromise, or who are stuck at a developmental level of adolescent rebellion, can be found working at pizza delivery for years on end. 
It’s slamming the door when one comes home after a night of drinking because one’s in high spirits, instead of closing the door quietly because the roommate is probably asleep. 

Tpg: Do your views of the F-Word connect or coincide with your spiritual or religious views?

Ellen Etc: Good question. Only if etiquette is a religion! 
I am actually very religious (and have been very active in the same Santa Rosa congregation for more than 30 years), but my religion focuses on the individual search for truth, and the worth and dignity of every person. My religion doesn’t take a position on “bad language,” but it does teach children (and adults) consideration for others and how to be an effectively participating member of a society.
I also have a lot of respect for and enjoyment of bodily functions. It bothers me to hear people use “fuck you” and “asshole” as epithets. I personally get a great deal of pleasure from my own asshole and don’t want to disrespect it by citing it as an insult toward others. When someone says, “fuck you,” they aren’t only insulting the other person; they’re also mindlessly using sex as a pejorative. (Of course, “fuck you” is only words, so nobody should take it personally, right?)

Tpg: Do you find yourself quickly defining a person after you hear him/her say or write 
the F-Word?

Ellen Etc: Yes, if it’s used casually, in that hipster way. “Look, Mommy, I’m 25 now and old enough to say ‘fuck,’ and you can’t stop me!” It makes my eyes roll. I think the people who use this language without thought get a clue when they have their own children and find it distasteful to hear their 7-year-olds using it. As parents, they find they actually can articulate the philosophy of “context” pretty well at that point.

The “read motherfucking books all damn day” graphic wouldn’t have attracted attention without the “motherfucking,” right? Who sends around a photo that says, “Read books all damn day?” So it isn’t about the sentiment of wanting to read, it’s the positioning that  “I am a person who is wild and free and as proof, I use ‘motherfucking’ on my Facebook page, which also gets stodgy people to Unfriend me, so that I will have a cozy community of people who all think like I do.” (Although perhaps I’m reading more into it than I need to? Ya think?)

Tpg: Are you comforted in the fact that my questions are using the word 'F-Word' and not 'fuck?'

Ellen Etc: No, this is a personal, almost academic discussion for me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “fuck” or “fucking,” and I don’t mind it used colloquially to describe having sex. But to me, “I’m fucking my cat” doesn’t mean that I’m fucking with my cat, it means I’m fucking my cat.

Tpg:  Should the F-Word be used to describe hot sex? 

Ellen Etc: Hell, it can be used to describe tepid sex. Just don’t throw it around.
Fuck this anchovy pizza”? I don’t think so. It makes me think of a guy with a slice of pizza wrapped around his dick, and then offering it to his pals “afterwards.” Gross.

Similarly with “shit” – I read an article about a woman who went to prison, and in the first few days she was accosted in the bathroom and forced to eat her own waste. “Everyone eats their own shit eventually,” says the other prisoner.

This is what I think of when people say, “That movie was the shits.” I think about steaming piles of dog shit, or avoiding runny goose shit on the path at Spring Lake.

Tpg:  What do you shout out when you hit your pinkie, with full-on force with a hammer, because you miss a huge bolt you were trying to pound into a cement wall? 

Ellen Etc: I like “aaaaaaaa!” and “ack!” or even “crap.” But I don’t shout “crap!” on Facebook. If I did say, “Fuck!” I would apologize afterwards. 

Well, well.  Ellen’s a very hard act to follow. Damn. She’s eloquent and I’m a simpleton who grew up on grits, and when my dad worked, we splurged on Haas avocados.  She’s got a few f*^!$*&*^%@# great points and all I have is a resume with 7+ years of trailer park management experience, but I can (and will) tell you this.  “The word” has been highly effective for me.
It works. It's versatile and if nothing else, it's left me privately satisfied at the end of the day.  Because if you think about it, it does cause for pause, raised eyebrows, an occasional small, breathless gasp, especially if it’s in an inappropriate setting.  Now, I’m with Ellen.  Perhaps self-constraint should be used in certain settings such as churches, classrooms, your great grandmother’s dinner table, but on my blog??!!
No way! Come on, Ellen! 
Written format, whether it be essay, fiction, non-fiction, poem, or blog, as I see it, holds a unique place in a culture much like art, lyrics, dance; a creative life force that cannot and should not be beckoned with, stifled, changed, or banned.

In 2007, a federal appeals panel said the FCC could no longer slap indecency fines on broadcasters, who accidentally allowed the word fuck on the airwaves,
arguing that these days the word fuck is commonly used to express frustration rather than sexual obscenity. How did fuck and other words get so dirty anyway?
They were born that way, for the most part. Fuck has always been an offensive word, though its exact origin is unclear. It's related to words in Dutch, German, and Swedish, and the etymological meaning has to do with moving back and forth. The first known evidence of the term is found in an English and Latin poem from before 1500 that satirized the Carmelite friars of Cambridge, England.  In the line "Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk," the author replaced each letter of the unprintable words with the succeeding letter in the alphabet: "They [the friars] are not in heaven, since they fuck wives of Ely."* (Remember that the alphabet at the time was different, and that i was also j, v was also u, and vv was w. Thus gxddbov produces fvccant, a fake Latin word taken to mean, "fuck.")

Since then, fuck has remained consistently offensive, though it has lost some of its original punch. The word only developed its nonsexual meanings in the late 19th century. (You can find that usage in Civil War court-martial records, for instance.) The word became much more widely used after World War I and now, along with shit, accounts for half the swearing that goes on in public. At this point, even our president and vice president will use it casually in its nonsexual sense. In March 2002, Bush interrupted a meeting with Condoleezza Rice and yelled,
Fuck Saddam!” We're taking him out!" And Dick Cheney famously said, "Go fuck yourself" to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate.
Now, no matter what political side you stand on, these are high-ranking officials using profanity.  Inappropriate?  Perhaps.
Most often, swear words grow less vulgar with time. Back in Shakespeare's day, when one's lineage mattered a lot more, the word bastard was so offensive it was often written "b-d." Contemporary readers might not recognize the power of a line like this one, spoken by Capt. MacMorris in Act IIII of Henry V: "What about my nation? Is my nation a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal?" Meanwhile, shit was once a standard Old English word for feces. Today, it remains one of the most versatile vulgarities in our language. These days, you can be "shit-scared" (so scared you shit yourself), live in a “shit hole” or have "shit for brains" (be dumb). And, of course, the shit can also hit the fan. President Bush used another version when he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the United Nations needed to "get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."

According to Allen Walker Reed (2004), it was highly offensive to say, “trousers” or even “pants” in the 1800’s.  In the 1900’s, U.S. film censorship boards were highly influenced by the church, and religious profanities were explicitly forbidden. The 1939 American classic Gone with the Wind made history when Clark Gable uttered one of cinema’s most famous lines, “Frankly, my dear, I dont give a damn, resulting in a $5,000 fine.

As far as writing this delicious controversial, journey-inspiring little word, we can write it like this    !@#$   or    f@!%ing    or   ‘effin   or   F—You    or    F-Word   or  F’n    or   wtf
and the reader still silently reads “fuck.”
But thanks to Ellen Etc, I’m giving it more thought. 
Just yesterday, I was feeling quite ‘grounded’ having listened to Tina Malia, meditated for 5 minutes (which is record-breaking for me) and only ingested a single cup of coffee (also record-breaking)…
Feeling quite balanced, humbly dignified and thanks to Tina, Ellen and Kirstie, quite poised. 
I left for work on a fluffy cloud.  I rolled the window down to feel the breeze on my face
and smell the sea.  Ahhhh.
 I pulled out at a corner, in front of a man in his mid-seventies, driving a Cadillac.  He clearly had the right away.  I smiled a sweet, humanistic smile and said, “I’m so sorry, sir.” His eyebrows crunched hard, mean-like as he laid on his horn.  He then proceeded to give me the middle finger as he continued down the street.
In a split second my “Zen” flew out the damn window…
“FUCK YOU!!!!!!!!” I yelled back at him.
Clearly, the journey is on going.


  1. OK. Remember, you asked for comments....

    I realize I'm pathetically old-school. In my family, h-e-double toothpicks was enough to get one sent to one's room for the rest of the day. That said, when I hear or read the "f" word, my internal responses tend to be that the utterer is in a prolonged adolescence, linguistically lazy, or (in the case of a particular loved one) suffering from one too many glasses of wine. It turns me off, to use another sexually-tinged phrase. I know that many writers use it for effect. For me, the effect is often to find something else to read.

    1. Thanks banjoker! So nice to hear from you again after months and months!
      Maybe we should hang out again. I promise to leave my "prolonged adolescence" at home!
      Seriously though, thanks for contributing to the conversation! Much love and a box of crayons, where all colors can comfortably reside!

  2. When I was 5 yrs old (I am well advanced into the world where I'm SUPPOSE to have wisdom), I missed my school bus and the principle had to drive me home. He was not a happy camper, to say the least. In fact, he said a word that I had never heard--so I had no idea what he meant. I did however, understand that he was angry, so I didn't press my luck by asking him to explain. I just wanted to get home to the safety of my home.

    My Mom thanked him graciously for the ride, invited him to stay for dinner, which I was grateful that he refused. I didn't care if he ate with us, but I wanted to know the meaning of this new word! You see, I was one of those children that asked a zillion queries--in fact, one of my friend's calls me 'Junie Junie Why Why" so I have to admit to being guilty of still asking questions!

    Digressing here.

    Ok, I sit down to my family's dinner, the conversation begins and I asked the burning question: "Mom, or Dad, what does the word 'shit' mean?" I was shocked at what followed. The sound of silver dropping to the table was very pronounced. I froze in shock as my mother, wearing an angry, red face, jumped to her feet, grabbed my arm and dragged me into the bathroom! For five L-O-N-G minutes she used a tooth brush to wash my mouth with soap! I was not a happy child, and she was one pissed off parent as she sent me to my room with massive tears and a sore mouth--and still in complete darkness as to what the danged word meant!

    Today, I'd race to DSS and report the well meaning woman, but back then I was smart enough to shut my mouth and never ask that question again. I learned a lot that day: that the English language had some mysterious words that I didn't know who would explain, and that I would never let the word 'shit' slip out of my mouth again.

    For the next 40 years! Yes, you read that right; I did not swear for the next 40 years (do you all see Val fainting on the floor?). By this time, I had fooled society into believing I had some class, had raised 2 children who only spoke 'acceptable' language (with an understanding of why, I might add)and had years of working with teens and abused women and children. There were plenty of opportunities to use 'foul' language, but that old tooth brush always hung out in my head.

    So, at 45 yrs old, I told myself that I was free. I had done well for this long, but that the next 45 yrs I was going to speak any word that I wanted. And, I have......

    Words are words. They have meanings, but often the meanings are what we attach to them and we all come from different families with different word usage. To me, the word 'fuck' has absolutely nothing to do with sex, but rather a way to toss out drama, if approperate. So, Val, you hear me say what I want IN YOUR HOME, because it is ok there. But if your Mom were to show up, I'd behave. That tooth brush is all powerful still! It also wouldn't serve me well to use this type of language around my Buddha Son, who is 6.....or his teachers, whom I'm sure wouldn't appreciate my flare. I'm not crazy about movies that use 'fuck' all the time, cause it really isn't how society talks on the street. I had to laugh at Ellen's visual of a guy with his 'fucking pizza'--actually, I'm still laughing!

    So....a long way to say that it doesn't offend me unless the person using it has no boundaries around her/his language. This could embarrass others, and that seems rather selfish.

    But, baby, in your home--around our mutual friends--I have no problem with the 'f-word.' That sounded silly, actually, but I'm trying to be 'acceptable'. Even in your home, I wouldn't use it but for some effect that I wanted.

    Gads, it took me forever to find a way to reply to a blog and now I can't stop the fingers from dancing!!!

    And...........hide the fuckin tooth brush!

  3. BTW......bravo for Kristie for plugging Poise. I thought the ad was a bit shocking but I know many women who use them and isn't it fantastic that they don't have to hold the shame of ageing as a negative. How wonderful that Poise makes a product that allows these women to function outside of their home and now that Kristie is a spokeswoman, it is even better!!!

    Besides............seeing Kristie as an angle is a kick!

  4. I think it has it's place in our day and age and I don't think you're an overuser or abuser. There are some times when nothing else feels so right and usually for me that is during golf (!) but I don't think as hard as Ellen Etc on the meaning of the word, just use it as the curse word it's become and as a way to let out some madness. Worse things exist I'm sure but I also agree that there may be a better way. I'm going to try and be more creative in the future and make the world a better place :) Anywaay, great read!

  5. tpg, you could write about enemas and it would make me laugh! I've never read anyone whose personality, wit, and charm come through more perfectly in her writing than do yours. f@#*ing classic! Don't change a thing for me, as in "My Funny Valentine." You will notice, of course, I use this word sparingly, taught that its use indicated a crimped vocabulary. Or perhaps, it is truly a generational thing. But, wtf, it just ain't true. There were many pearls of wisdom in this blog from Ellen Etc.'s pov. I'm poised to read them again. And your responses, as in talking to myself (as I am now.) Have a great day, tpg, and watch out for old codgers in Cadillacs...they'll nail you every time (I know....I am one only mine's a Camry Hybrid!)

  6. I am tickled pink that you quoted me so extensively, Valerie. I certainly understand that many people need to have a reserve of strong language for strong situations, but most of the usage I hear is pretty f***ing casual. There's the useful concept of multiple languages -- the language of respect for school, work, and society, and a separate language of fun for use with one's intimates.

    But many people stubbornly argue that there's no difference among "occasions," and that "words are just words," which, sadly, limits their effectiveness across subcultures. Bedroom language for the bedroom, board room language for the board room, courtroom language for the courtroom, I say! Save "finger" language for instances in which one truly wishes to insult another.

    I deeply enjoyed your lively historical overview of "offensive" language. TROUSERS! Waaahaha!

    Thanks again for including me in your blog and making me famous!

    1. Ellen Etc, THANK YOU! A reader asked me if I made up the character "Ellen Etc." And I said, "Nope. She's the real deal and I truly hope to meet her one day!" ~tpg

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this stimulating, entertaining (per usual, filled with fire!) well-researched article and am delighted that you and Ellen got a chance to have a "meeting of the minds" on this subject! I must come from a writer's perspective on this one: I love the sounds of words. Period. Admittedly, 'fuck' always has had a nice, definitive, resounding resonance to it, regardless of its meaning. That said, I don't care whether a businessman or politician use the word but, say, if a pre-adolescent youngster were to use the word, it would strike me hotly as somehow distasteful and inappropriate.

    1. Amen to your thoughts, Danielle! ..."a nice resounding resonance" like that first quenching sip of a chilled Chardonnay on a humid, hot afternoon! Don't ya love Ellen Etc! Gotta meet her one day. Helluva wise woman. Thank you for joining the conversation! ~tpg