Sunday, September 4, 2011

The joy of expletives

It was a joy to read Donald Clarke's satirical piece 'The joy of expletives depend on continuing power to shock' in today's Irish Times. I invite you to click on this link & read it, not only so you may appreciate it for yourself, but also so that what follows will be placed into its proper context.

The piece is subtly done, but the giveaway that it is satire is his brilliantly ironic accusation that those who object to profanity are prudes, while prudishly refusing to spell out the f-word himself. He claims he must do so to protect 'sheltered psyches', but this is surely a device to give added sting to his wit; studding the piece with asterisks only highlights his disdain for such language.

His distaste should not come as a surprise, for he is a clever man and there is nothing clever about profanity. Quite the opposite: using the same few words to describe everything must surely be the height of dumbing down. Of course, as Mr Clarke reminds us, its users think themselves sophisticates who desire to shock those whom they, presumably, regard as less sophisticated than they. Ironically, to be deliberately shocking one must find the words shocking oneself. There is something positive in this, as it indicates that they in some way recognise there is something fundamentally wrong in what they are doing; that to reduce all of human experience to the crudest of terms and justify it as wit or sophistication is to demean us all.

Most were afraid to speak out, fearful of being seen as old-fashioned or, worse, unsophisticated. Mr Clarke, however, has shown us that the emperor has no clothes. And defenders of profanity may note that he didn't need to use a single swear word to do so.

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