Strong words, that might offend some wankers. From PZ Myers.

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Sunday Sacrilege: Magic words

Category: AdministrativeGodlessness
Posted on: March 15, 2010 12:38 AM, by PZ Myers

Words are the great ju-ju — some apparently believe we have the power to call up Satan and summon the lightning with the choice use of language. One of the common quirks of many Christian and Jewish sites on the internet is the insistence on writing G_D, as if including an “o” turns the word into a Rune of Power, is an expression of disrespect, or perhaps instills some strange fear in the writer. It’s God as Voldemort, and all I can say is F_CK THAT.

There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.

Mark Twain

God damn it.

I was brought up to think that phrase was a great sin — gentlemen simply don’t say that, and there was an especially patronizing attitude that one particularly does not say anything like that in front of women. Apparently, strong words were too much for the weaker sex.

And that’s what it was all about: strong words. Words that confront and challenge, words that are expressive and exuberant, words that defy gods and defy authority, lusty words that stir up primal urges, violent words that hit hard, even when no physical assault is likely or even possible. Fightin’ words. Profane words. Words that you can’t say in a church, but can shout in a saloon.

Isn’t that amazing? Language is power, and some people want to shackle it down and tame it and tell you what you are allowed to say — and they especially want to limit what might be an affront to an unquestioned faith or to people in power. Swearing is low-class and vulgar. It’s a strange world that takes the power of language, a power that they implicitly admit is there, and turn it into an object of shame. Language is free, after all, and the lower classes and women can use that power easily…and we can’t have that. Chain them down with shame, and weaken one weapon that anyone can use.

My swearing doesn’t mean any more to me than your sermons do to you.

Mark Twain

But ultimately, there is no magic. There are no gods who can damn anything for us, and merely cussin’ someone out does them no physical harm. Profanity is expression, which is both trivial and all-important; it’s a flavor of words, like poetry or song. They all have impact in their own way, but we should no more condemn an obscenity shouted in frustration than we would poetry whispered in love.

Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.

Mark Twain

What matters isn’t the words, it’s the meaning. The words are there to convey significance, and it’s dishonest to ourselves to pretend, to mask our meaning by declaring the relevant portion of our vocabulary off-limits. Sometimes a heartfelt “fuck you” is exactly the sentiment we want to express; why should we stitch our lips shut and hide away our feelings? Because the other is incapable of coping with honest emotion?

The spirit of wrath and not the words—is the sin; and the spirit of wrath is cursing. We begin to swear before we can talk.

Mark Twain

Words do have power and can hit us hard, but it is ridiculous to pretend that it is the words alone that are hurtful, that somehow by screening out a few strong words we can shelter tender ears and delicate minds. The most hurtful words I can think of, the phrase that can cause a great amount of actual pain, are “I don’t love you any more.” There’s not one obscenity in there. Shall we censor talk of love because it might make someone weep?

The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way.

Mark Twain

It’s all about how the words are used, not the words themselves. People who are hung up on tiny fragments of language, single words and phrases, and who are intimidated or angered by them while ignoring the whole of the conversation, are shallow thinkers, superficial censors with no interest in the ideas, only that a conversation is channeled along narrow avenues that will not burst out beyond the circumscribed boundaries of his sense of propriety.

The only sin in profanity, to my ears, is that it can reflect a lack of imagination. If you’re saying “fuck” or “damn” as every other word, you’re doing it wrong. But you aren’t making Jesus angry, all you’re doing is boring me.


I am going to try an experiment here. As some of you know, there are a few whiners out there on the internet who have put up a pretense of shock and horror that I do not try to censor free expression in the comments here — you can say what you want, as you want, and the primary sins are a) interfering with the discussion with repetitive, obnoxious spamming, and b) boring me (yes, you could get banned for swearing…if that was all you ever did.)

They seem terribly upset that people write here with the same language they would use at a bar, not the prim, bottled-up language they would use in a church. To which I say…too bad. Don’t read the site, then.

But I’m still going to carry out an experiment in censorship, just to demonstrate its futility. I’m going to ban certain obscenities for just one week. These are some fairly common words that some people find offensive, and I’m simply going to temporarily add them to the comment filters so that if you use them, your comment will be held up in moderation. It’ll probably stay there, too, since I’m in Australia and a bit busy.

Your mission: keep on chatting in exactly the same way, as abusively and profanely and loudly as ever, only use whatever euphemisms you want for the banned words. I predict that there will be no change at all in the tone here.

The obscenities that are currently banned are:

cock
cunt
damn
fuck
kirshenbaum
mooney
shit
vegemite

Just to remind you, and also to compound the irony, these words will be listed at the bottom of every post, just beneath the comment box. I may also change the list as the whim strikes me; any changes will be accompanied by changes in the very public listing with every post.

Have fun and get creative. Remember, this is only temporary, and when I get home from Australia next week I’ll remove the filters so you can mooney the shit out of every damn comment again.

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