Entry 1030 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash
I came home with a broad smile on my face because I found out at my local book- and DVD shop that the cult-series of the Sixties The Prisoner has finally reached this continent. Years before Twin Peaks, years before Lost (getting stupider and stupider by the episode, pardon me for not watching it anymore), The Prisoner was Britain’s most haunting and psychedelic TV experience. Of course the series only got better and better in my mind and I can only hope that watching the seventeen parts, 40 years after they have been made, will not turn into a bad trip, or even worse, into a kind of Austin Powers flashback show.
Trifles light as air
I was subliminally thinking of Iago’s wise words (Othello, Act III, scene III ) when I started reading The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television by Steven Pinker. It is an essay about the use of profanities in our culture and how cultural, ideological and legal systems react to the use of so-called obscene words. The democratic governments have lost the battle against the printed word, at least when the printed four letter words are presented as literature, but in the daily newspaper flow, and certainly on television, several words are still prohibited for whatever reason. In the famous ‘seven words’ George Carlin routine (Steven Pinker named his essay after it) we are told that the palindrome tit may not be used on television, but, paradoxically enough, boob, also a palindrome, and relating to exactly the same amount of human tissue, is allowed without a problem. One can only guess why or why not.
Of course the meaning of words changes over the years, as the poet Enderby tries to explain on stage, in one of Anthony Burgess’ funnier novels. The poet ends up as a substitute for the male lead in an American musical based on the life of Shakespeare and feels it necessary to analyse the dialogue when the actor playing Shakespeare’s son uses a word that is quite common now but that had a different meaning in the sixteenth century.
Do not call me dad. Dad is a term used only for an illegitimate father. In other words, only a bastard may use it. You, whatever you are, are not a bastard. (Taken from: Enderby’s Dark Lady)
The bard himself had a way of words, but this is not always appreciated by the public, like Mr Poynder who has a great deal to say about the use of the womb word in Macbeth, Act V, scene VIII.
To my mind it’s a disgrace that schoolbooks can be printed with such words in them. I’m sure if any of us had ever known that Shakespeare was that kind of stuff, we’d have put our foot down at the start. It surprises me, I must say. Only the other morning I was reading a piece in my News Chronicle about Shakespeare being the father of English Literature; well, if that’s Literature, let’s have a bit LESS Literature, say I! (Taken from: A Clergymans’s Daughter (George Orwell))
Watching reruns of the A-Team I still find it strange that acts of hyper violence could pass through the censor’s scissors without a problem. That kind of violence normally leads to a bloody mess but that term is something you will seldom hear on television.
America, the greatest nation in the world, has always amazed me by its ability of turning the ridicule into the obvious. It scares the shit out of me that the greatest country in the world will have a vice president who believes that dinosaurs and humans lived happily together about 6000 years ago. What is the ideological convergence between Osama Bin Laden and Sarah Palin? Let's hope America never sees a (vice)-president who wants to quicken the last judgment by pushing the red button… a wish some Muslims (Al-Qiyamah) and Christians have in common.
Sometimes my amazement turns into a state of headshaking unbelief, for instance when Pinker writes that in 1999 an aide to the mayor of Washington DC resigned because he had used the word niggardly during a meeting. My Merriam Webster has the following to say about the word:
nig.gard.ly adj (1571) 1: grudgingly mean about spending or granting: begrudging 2: provided in meanly limited supply syn see stingy -- nig.gard.li.ness n -- niggardly adv
The word has got nothing to do with the term nigger that arrived, still according to my dictionary, 130 years later. The term, derived from negro or nègre, wasn’t offensive in the beginning, just like cunt in the fifteen hundreds, both words acquired a taboo meaning centuries later.
The essay The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television has now been published as a separate booklet. Originally it was a chapter of Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought. This shows that swearwords do have a market.
The Stuff of Thought counts 512 pages and can be bought for 9.99£, The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television with its 96 pages clocks at 3.99£. It doesn’t take a genius to compute that swearwords have an economical advantage of 2.1301301301301301301301301301301 to 1. So you better handle them with care.
These sentences, to sugar, or to gall,
Being strong on both sides, are equivocal:
But words are words; I never yet did hear
That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear.
I humbly beseech you, proceed to the affairs of state.
Othello, Act I, scene III
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