Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Talking like everyone else

This week's most gaseous news may be about VP Joe Biden calling a restaurant owner a smartass, which several of our brilliant media have characterised as a "mild obscenity."

Let's begin with the usage lesson for all those editors so ignorant of their own craft that they called this an obscenity, however mild. Stretch the usage if you like, but there are better terms.

Smartass is a vulgarity
Fuckin' smartass would be an obscenity
Goddam smartass is profanity, and
Shithead is scatology

There may be a pop quiz for editors.

Although Americans, and especially Americans with a keyboard, like to pretend otherwise, they are royalists at heart and really don't want their leaders talking like everybody else. This business called to mind a local reporter's comment on George Washington's salty language in the made-for-TV movie The Crossing back in 2000. She was shocked as only a journalist can be, saying, more or less, "the father of my country wouldn't talk like that!"

Well, he would and he did. Contemporaries reported that, in an era in which strong language was common, Washington stood out for language that probably outdid any of his sergeants'. If you polled Americans as to which American generals were saltiest, Patton would certainly lead. Washington wouldn't even make the top ten, but Grant probably would. Oddly enough, his contemporaries commented that Grant never swore, which was highly unusual at the time, and rarely even got angry. Shows what a reputation will do. If Obama had said "smartass," he would get compliments for showing some backbone.

The only group whose hypocrisy in the Biden matter outdoes that of the media is the army of online commenters, but they have an interest at stake. In his introduction to the Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk explained that he had left most standard Navy saltiness out of the dialogue because it was nothing more than punctuation that meant nothing when put into print. George Carlin observed, as have many others, that offensive language ceases to be offensive when it's used often enough. My parents' generation are offended by hearing words such as ass (or smartass), fricken or frigging, and crap on the air or reading them online. Their parents were offended by gosh and darn.

Although I regret the demise of so many useful expletives, there's one benefit to having political figures, news media, experts and celebrities talk like longshoremen every chance they get. The scribbles of online commenters already lack anything resembling content: all they can do is try for adolescent shock. Daily usage is rubbing down every vulgar, obscene, blasphemous, scatalogical and offensive word in the language. When this has happened, the commentariat will be made speechless.

Rock 'em, Joe.

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