11 June 2013

Cee Lo, Carlin, and vulgar words

Inviting an artist such as Cee Lo, whose signature song is “Fuck You” and expecting G-rated, milk toast, lukewarm entertainment is a bit like expecting the same from a comedy concert with George “Seven Dirty Words” Carlin.

Had Carlin been invited to this year’s Riverbend and actually appeared, I would definitely have wanted to see that.

It was in late grammar school or else junior high after hearing repeated lectures about “vulgarity” from various adults, sometimes directed specifically as me sometimes not, that I actually looked the word, or rather the word from which it is derived (vulgar), up.  The meaning of “vulgar” is “coming from the common folk”. 

Since I knew even then that there were Latin-based words with the exact same meaning (for example, the first four of Carlin’s seven words would be defecate, urinate, copulate, and vagina), I strongly suspected that the reason these words were shunned in “polite” society was their origin in the Anglo-Saxon tongue vis-à-vis the Norman French tongue imported across the Channel from the Continent.

I wasn’t able to confirm my suspicions beyond a reasonable doubt until I was at UTC (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and had access to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, which included “those” words.  Sure enough, they are all rooted in the Germanic languages of the fifth and sixth centuries invaders of the Isle of Britain as opposed to that of the later eleventh century Norman (and Breton and Flemish) invaders of the eleventh century speaking the Latin-based French language who became the ruling upper class.

I have noticed that in the past couple of decades quite a number of British (Yiddish too, by the way) “swear words” on prime time TV here in the USA that across the water are considered equally impolite and profane as Carlin’s “seven dirty words.  But rather than being outraged most of those who would be shocked and awed at use of American-style vulgarity respond with “Oh, how cute!” since they’re “British”.

So, the bias against these words had more to do with pretentious snobbery than the actual meaning of the words themselves.  In response to the protest against this conclusion that it is not the words themselves but how they are used, I ask why then the focus on these words when there are so much more hurtful ways of speaking to others that cause much more harm?  A bit hypocritical, wouldn’t you say? 

To some people, though, appearance, rather than reality, is what matters.  I seem to recall a rather noted historical figure who condemned such an attitude and find it ironic that most people throwing stones at Cee Lo probably believe they are acting in his name.

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