Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dirty Words

By Cornelia

When I was a elementary student at Carmel River School in the early Seventies, one of things I most looked forward in every grade was the day Ric Masten drove in from Big Sur to perform his annual concert in our cafeteria.

In preparation, our lunch tables and benches (covered in pink formica with beige and raspberry boomerangs)

were folded neatly flat into the walls like Murphy beds, clearing the floor for several hundred of us to sit on the linoleum "Indian style."

Ric would take a seat on our tiny stage, settle his twelve-string guitar on his lap, and launch into our favorites from his repertoire--"Palomino," "Pico Blanco," "Evy Ivy Over."

The highlight each year was his "Dirty Word Song," which he'd always preface with a brief lead-in about what makes words seem good or bad. Each verse ended with Ric hesitating before he blurted out a different much-anticipated expletive, all of us at long last shrieking "potty!" or what-have-you right along with him before collapsing against each other in helpless giggles.

What we loved best, however, was his urging us to join him in singing the final chorus, which ended with "the only dirty words are hate and war."

Given my enduring love of profanity, I guess I took his philosophy to heart at that tender age.

Granted, my road to becoming fully adept in the art of gutter language was not always a smooth one. There was the time, for instance, when I referred to fellow-fourth-grader Chris Ashmont as "a homo" in earshot of my mother.

Mom asked me if I knew what that utterance meant, whereupon I patiently explained to her that it was "short for homo sapien," which I mistakenly pictured at the time as a sort of furry and stooped pre-historic-type person one might once have found living in caves.

By high school, however, I had achieved such a breadth and depth of forbidden vocabulary that I rarely made it through hockey practice

without having Miss Marlor yell, "I heard that, Read! Drop and give me twenty," across the field.

Mom still says that the only things she knows her daughters learned in boarding school were how to smoke cigarettes and swear.

Turning profanity into a paying gig took a lot longer. During my brief stint as editor-in-chief "Bunny de Plume" at the now thankfully defunct Bodice.com, I became perhaps the first writer in history ever to lose money writing pornography.

I think this might have something to do with the fact that there's not a whole lot of what the Dixie Chicks refer to as "mattress dancing" described overtly in my novels.

It hasn't stoppered my protagonist's potty mouth, however. Kirkus even referred to my "liberal use of the F-word" in a recent pre-pub review of The Crazy School (in a good way).

Several weeks ago, however, I finally got the chance to talk about bad words non-fictionally for money (woo hoo!) when Bay Area writer Ellen Sussman asked if I'd be interested in contributing to the anthology she's currently editing.

She sent us all the cover art this morning:

Due out in June, 2008

If you'd like to hazard a guess as to which word I chose for my subject, here are some hints: it's pink, starts with "e," and is wedged between "jobs" and "dirty" in the jpeg above. The phrase "nature's applause meter" appears during the course of the essay, if you need another hint.

What's your favorite dirty word? Did you ever use one wrong when you were were a kid?

As for me, I still agree with Ric Masten.

The only dirty words are hate and war.

And I hope the fires in SoCal are brought under control soon--stay safe, you guys!


  1. I work to not use objectionable language around my family. I slip, sometimes often.

    The f bomb is easiest to come out inadvertantly.

    I'm not proud of it but it happens.


  2. Ric M. sure got it right.

    "Nature's applause meter." Absolute killer! Hard topic too.

    My favorite dirty word? Totally dependent on the situation.

    Love that cover. Is it gonna make it to the bookshelves as is? Sure hope so.

    Jacky B.

  3. Fun post, Miss Cornelia ;-)

    My very favorite dirty word is the ever popular f*ck, and all its variations. It's so wonderfully flexible. You can use it when you're happy: "F*ckin' A, man, that's great news!" You can use it when you're crabby: "Oh, for f*ck's sake, what a moron." It's just an all around useful word. I also like the Irish version: fook.

    And much as I love dirty words, I also have fun with non-dirty, expletive-like adjectives. I like "drat" and "dratted" a lot. And "cursed", pronounced the old-fashioned, two syllable way. And "bejabbers", as in "He annoyed the bejabbers out of me".

  4. Nice to know that your colorful language is noted in reviews, as is mine. Why is it that people are so hung up on this? They're just words. And as Rae points out, incredibly versatile!

  5. I would love to be like WC Fields who never said anything stronger than Godfrey Daniel.

    Unforunately, I'm a lax fuck.

    A few weeks ago, after I backed over my amplifier, I drove home in long stretches of silence broken only by the occassional "FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK."

    It helped. A little.

  6. I always admire writing that takes a nasty word and changes its form, as in the dialogue below from "Full Metal Jacket" (screenplay credit to Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr & Gustav Hasford).

    Here's Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (Lee Emery) addressing Private Joker (Matthew Modine):

    "You little scumbag! I got your name, I got your ass! You will not laugh, you will not cry, you will learn by the numbers, I will teach you! Now get up! Get on your feet! You had best unfuck yourself or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!"

  7. Paul,

    Full Metal Jacket is my favorite war movie mainly because it's the only movie I've seen that actually gets Basic Training right.

    Our Drill Sergeants were virtuosi in the use of language.

  8. I have to say that my absolute favorite use of a bad word in real life was a story I heard about my first stepfather's second wife (mom was his third.) Number two was a very good-looking young woman named Beryl, something of a starlet in '50s LA.

    She was on her way to an audition one day, dressed to the nines--hat, gloves, etc.--when some guy cut her off in traffic. She pulled up alongside him at the next stoplight, rolled down her window, and yelled "cuntlapper!" at him. Apparently he was so stunned he never made it through the next cycle of the traffic light.

    I've always wanted to meet her.

  9. Cornelia,

    There's an old story about Norman Mailer, who (due to censorship in the era) substituted "fug" for, the oft used, fuck in "The Naked And The Dead." At a party he was introduced to actress Talulah Bankhead. Bankhead looked him up and down, said, "Oh yes, you're the young man who doesn't know how to spell fuck."

    Jacky B.

  10. To tie in yesterday's theme about TV that one must TiVo with today's post.....There was skit on MadTV...here's the setup......The Sopranos, repackaged, after being cleaned up, on PAX TV (ala Sex in the City on TBS). The whole episode only last 1 minute, with fast cuts, and numerous bleeps.

    The point being, that most of the show is gratuitous vulgarity.

    My parents raised me with the belief that "objectionable language" was a sign of a limited vocabulary.....must be the English professor in my Mom.
    At some level I do agree with that philosophy. On the other hand, sometimes a "swear" word is precisely the idea one is trying to communicate.

    Unfortunately, often times, vulgarity trying to pass as craftiness or sexy, is just gratuitous and doesn't really enrich the story. I can't say that analysis applies to you Cornelia.....you KNOW how to "strategically" make the best of our language....with a well put F bomb or otherwise[crack].


  11. OK, tempted as I am to come clean about the gutter language circumstance sometimes forces me to employ, suffice it to say that "hate" and "war" are up there are really bad words in my book - ugly, nasty little buggers, aren't they?

  12. My current favourite is a term my wife came up with the other day in reference to a guy obsessed with anal sex: Dung-dicker.

    I hasten to add it wasn't in reference to me or anything I was doing at the time. For some reason she just refers to me as "OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod"

  13. Sorry, sometimes *fuck* is the only word that'll do. Some situations require a long, drawn out fffffffFFFFFUUUUUUUUCK!

    One of my favorite combos, so to speak, is "Well, fuck me crosseyed."

    I confess that I'm a bit puzzled as to why a woman would regard Miss Beryl's word "cuntlapper" as an insult. An interrogative, maybe.

    BTW, good luck getting WalMart to put THAT book on the shelves.

  14. It is probably indicative of my sheltered upbringing that when I was small I thought the f-word was "fart".

    I also recall a time, I believe it was third grade, when "corroded" was the epithet of choice to describe anything stupid and/or uncool.

  15. Sheeeee-it, I think.

  16. J.D. I think it was the "lapper" part that was meant to be insulting... implying a bit too much enthusiasm coupled with an extreme lack of finesse.

    Daisy, I remember hearing once from my elementary school busdriver, Shell, that for a couple of years she thought the phrase "cut low"-- which was then used to follow up an effective insult, a la "psych!"-- was some boy's last name. She said she heard it so many times that she began to presume there was a large family named Cutlow in Carmel.

  17. I simply love to curse. And I love it even more now that I'm a mom and I have to hide it. My idea of heaven has become sitting with my girlfriends with a glass of wine and talking about cocksuckers. Simple pleasures are best. (But now I will have to incorporate cuntlapper into repertoire.)

  18. In grade school, I thought "69" was dirty because it was the shape of two sperm swimming.

    Great post, Ms. C.

    But what a sad visual, with the War Themed turkish rug!

  19. Louise, Ariel has put together a magnificent exhibition of "war textiles" from around the world that's traveling around the country. I think it's going to be out here soon (in San Jose?)

    It's a really astonishing and poignant collection--rugs from Afghanistan, arpilleras from Latin America, Hmong refugee storycloths, African war flags, and Palestinian embroidered clothing. Textile arts with a long history of pastoral imagery, suddenly shifted in an attempt to record the impact of modern warfare on the artisans' traditional culture.

  20. C,

    I've seen rugs with the AK-47 a prominent design motif. I wanted one, of course, but I don't want to think too much about the inspiration.

  21. For me, it's the C U Next Tuesday. It's so shocking to hear myself say it!

    Cornelia, if it's not rude to reference another post here, I also forgot to mention in your great movie moments post The In-Laws -- my husband like just this second reminded me of it when I asked him why Jews weren't dentists -- he started yelling "Serpentine! Serpentine!" and running around the dining room like Alan Arkin.

    I nearly peed.

  22. Jews aren't dentists? Wow, talk about a paradigm shift! I'll have to rent that movie. I always think about Marathon Man when it comes to dentistry. This is not a Good Thing.

    David, the creepiest war rugs to me are the ones that reference the twin towers.

    Check out

  23. I'll go contrary and say my favorite dirty word is "-assed" used as an intensifier -- lame-assed, slack-assed, backwards-assed, etc. I seem able to drop that odd little flourish into extemporaneous blathering without so much as a eye being batted.

    Meanwhile, words aren't dirty. It's their use which can be dirty.
    silly-assed B

  24. I usually just use "ass," or even "butt" as my fave intensifier, B. Lameass, candyass, butthead, etc. I should probably go for "assed" instead, but I'm lazy ass.

  25. Grrr... my pink is not your pink. I reread that damn cover four times.
    ; )
    What a fabulous idea though. I'm putting that on my TBB list.

  26. Why are cuss words called dirty words? Only a very few cuss words are not related to sex, or sexual organs, the implication is therefore that sex is dirty. What an odd reflection then, that the act that creates us, occupies our thoughts for most of our waking hours, is the underlying reason why we want to drive a Ferrari, is considered dirty and needs to be spoken of in hushed tones.

    Fuck it all! I say, let's all shout it from the rooftops that sex is good clean fun when practiced between consenting adults. There will be some debate about where the cut-off point for being an adult is of course.

  27. Our J's "....nasty little buggers..." makes me think of the Harry Potter 1st movie's Oliver Wood saying that as he shows blugers for the first time to Harry.

    A colleague from South China explaining how "silly egg" was the worst one could call someone. So, of course, we all had to learn how to say that in Cantonese.

    Recalling the first time I heard a British person using the word "bloody" and struggling to understand why that was a swear word over there.

    And in Mexico, the very worst you can say to someone is "Your Mother/Tu Madre" this or that. So much so, best not to use the Mother/Madre word there at any time and use "Momma" instead. Talk about not fooling around with "Mother" Nature and giving pure respect instead.