“Dirty Words” and the Evolution of Language

When I was a kid Bloody was considered a borderline dirty word. Actually in any grandparents day I understand it WAS a dirty word. A word that good people did not say, at least not in polite company. Then along came Monty Python and a few other programs and it lost its impact.

Such is the way with language, it evolves over time. Damn and hell were curses, now they are used as mere emphasis. Verbal exclamation marks. Mind you I’m mostly talking about English because it is the language I’m most familiar with. But I assume other languages evolve as well. Even French has evolved. Despite the fact they fight like hell to keep France, and French Canada, speaking ‘pure’ French, words creep in. Sorry but there never was a French word for dongle, or to Google something. But I digress.

So language evolves and what is considered “dirty” becomes commonplace. In the 60′s Standards and Practices wouldn’t let them use Damn or Hell on TV. this gave rise to the odd situation where soldiers in shows like Combat were saying “Darn Germans”. It was really rather weird. Even as a kid I was sure that the pilots in Twelve O’Clock High should have occasionally said “Get the bastard!” or “You have to get that fucking engine running.” But not on TV, at least not then. Back then it was considered over the line to hear a toilet flush, and Archie Bunker had to call it by the nonsensical word “Terlet”. Fast forward a few decades and South Park did a show on Curse Words where they clearly stated that you can say shit on TV. And they proceeded to say it a hundred and some times. We know because they ran a counter in the corner of the screen.

Now there are older people, and at 55 I think I have a right to speak for them, who will complain that “young people all talk dirty”. “There’s no respect.” “All these kids and there fowl mouths are gonna ruin the country.” Let me let you in on a secret. Their parents said the same thing about them. And their grandparents said the same thing about their parents. It’s always been this way. And it’s never been true. Over time, societies, and language evolve into something different. And different does not mean worse.

George Carlin had a routine called The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. It is brilliant. But I’m pretty sure that now all of them get said on Television every day somewhere. So it doesn’t bother me that popular music uses fuck. Even motherfucker is fair game. They don’t bother me because those words have lost their impact through overuse. There is though, one thing that I am concerned about.

Where does language go from here?

Seriously, as these “dirty” words are made commonplace they lose their impact. Bloody used to be the Tabasco of language but now it’s just a bit of ground black pepper. I see a day when motherfucker is totally vanilla. Asshole, cunt, prick, bastard, and other words that used to be beyond the pale will not even be noticed. The Minister will sprinkle holy water and pronounce “I hereby baptize this little asshole Charles Dickhead Smith.” I see a day when royalty will smash a bottle of Champaign on the bow of a ship and say “I hereby christen this mothefucking ship the HMS Rimjob.” The words will have lost all of their impact.

And then what will you say when something is really fucked up? I mean when somebody burns down your house to hide the fact he just stole your girlfriend? “That motherfucker.” won’t cut it any more, because it’s been dissipated through overuse.

We need new swear words. Somebody has to come up with a set of new bad words. We need an assortment of new obscene, scatological, and blasphemous words. Better yet, words that combine all three. Let’s mix it up a bit. The question is how do we get them? Where would these new words come from?

I propose that every ten years, the Oxford English Dictionary should hold a contest for Seven New Words You Can’t Say On Television (Or Anywhere Else). People would send in suggestions. Then after examining them the people that proposed the top fifty words would be brought together in one place. There they would have to explain the meaning of their word, it’s derivation, and use the word in conversation. The fifty would be winnowed down through online voting until the final seven were selected, the dirtiest of the dirty. The seven new words never to be uttered in song, television, radio, or in polite company. The final rounds could be hosted by Alex Trabek. Ironically enough the contest would be televised.

I bet it would draw more viewers than Eurovision.