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July 23rd, 2008
The Devil’s Clack Dish: Cursing the curse words

The Devil’s Clack Dish: A Column
Scene Editor

I signed up for an “urban dictionary” mailing list, a site that e-mails a new contemporary expression everyday. I thought it would be fun to see what passes for slang in contemporary America. You know, what the kids are saying.

Instead, I have been appalled by the bland, colorless expressions that show up in my e-mail box each day. I can’t tell whether the authors of this site sincerely think they’re sending me slang or if they’re hell-bent on pulling my leg. 

Regardless of the site’s intent, the slang words are flat out moronic. For example, “Workahol” is cited as “what workaholics are addicted to.” Uh … okay. This term seems a little less than slang and little more than thinking that literality is humorous (must be Dane Cook fans).

A “B L Smooth” is a Bud Lite. The Anheuser-Busch people obviously made this up. The only way one could consider a Bud Lite to be “smooth” is if “smooth” is a euphemism for skunk water.

After reading a few of the daily definitions, I wandered over to the site to see if they were keeping the juicy slang off their mailing list.

The answer to this posit is a resounding yes. As I should have suspected, the more, shall we say, “adult” slang is on the site, not on their parent-friendly mailing list. We say “adult” advisedly –  the fact remains that sexual slang is never actually “adult,” but smacks of junior-high boys smokin’ weed behind the garage and spinning their adolescent exaggerations.

I got my bellyful of sex slang before I’d gotten through the “C’s,” and as I logged onto something more wholesome, (no, there isn’t such a site, but I’m trying to be ironic), I grew nostalgic for the slang of my elders – my mom, my grandpa, my uncle, my dad, my always buzzin’ cousins. 

I know it’s hard to believe, but the word bee-yotch, in all its various forms, was rarely used. The “F-word,” as it was called back then, was never uttered outside of the confines of one’s peers. My mom used to tell the story of how she saw the “F-word” written in chalk on the pavement at school and when she went home and asked about it she had her mouth roughly washed out with a bar of Ivory. She didn’t get any dessert that night, either, which, to the Mansfields, is roughly similar to capital punishment. I tell this story to illustrate how wrong people are when they state that the “F-word” has been in regular conversations for centuries. That’s a load of applesauce.

I am not a prude, and I use the “F-word” and all its permutations fairly frequently. But I lament of a culture where all curse words have lost their vigor and vitality. If somebody says b-tch or f—k, or even c–t, nobody gives a rat’s patoot (a–). Any lazy, illiterate s.o.b. can use these words when he cannot even spell them. It’s just not fair that all the good curse words have been taken away from me by a bunch of … of… antwacky, addle-pated, reechy, piss-ants (Look that up, m–herfu–er!)

In order for the rest of us to get the power back into these words, we have to use slang that will both mystify and impress the younger generation. Okay. We can’t do that. They really do appear to be unimpressable (the poor things!). But we can, at least, lend some color to their drab verbiage with stuff that we heard as kids.

Here are just a few suggestions. For more expressions, I suggest you talk to your grandparents:
“Pull up your socks and blow your nose,” meaning, “Grow up and act your age.”

“Have a beer and be somebody,” meaning, “Your personality could use a little loosening up, and a beer could make you more mellow and tolerable. Even a ‘B L Smooth’ would help you.”

“Tell it to the Marines,” meaning, “Tell that story to someone else, because I don’t believe you.”

“That’s horse feathers!” or “Applesauce!” meaning, “That’s a load of crap.” Great for replacing the overused sh-t and bullsh-t.

“Are you writing a book?” meaning, “Why are you so nosy?”

“Drop dead,” meaning, “Get lost, beat it, shut up.” This wonderful phrase can also be used as a question as in, “Why don’t you drop dead?” or even as an invitation, as in, “Drop dead, why don’t you?” and the ever popular imperative, “You should drop dead.” This phrase makes an excellent replacement for the currently worn out and tattered “f–k you.”

“Eat dirt,” meaning—see “drop dead.”

“Now you’re on the trolley,” meaning, “Now you understand what appears obvious to most people.” So much more vivid than the current, “No duh!”

“Says you!” meaning, “You are saying something that I don’t believe you have any proof for. Therefore, I think it’s just your opinion and, as such, I think it stinks.”

“And how!” meaning, “You ain’t just whistlin’ ‘Dixie.’ ”

“Don’t be such a Clyde!” meaning, “You are a square, strictly L7, a nerd, a dork, and I wish you would stop and think about that for a moment.”

“Okey Dokey Smokey,” meaning, “Okay.” Can be used in place of  “f—k, yeah!” Or “sh—t, yeah!” so that those two phrases can retain some of their enthusiasm. Also useable is the colorful “Okey Dokey Artichokey!” which also has that popular “green” thing going for it. For the media-savvy there is, additionally, the celebrated “You betcha, Red Rider.”

These are just a few examples of slang I heard or used in my youth that did not verge on destroying the verve of the curses I have used, with my peers, like a pirate sailor on leave. If we want the language to retain it’s salt, then we’ve got to add some sugar to it, and vice-versa.  All good speakers and cooks know this.

Language should have a flavor that is both spicy and honeyed. That’s why we still study Shakespeare, isn’t it, because he knew how to cook with all the spices of English?

By urging us all to regularly use less graphic and more illustrative slang, I wish to protect our precious language. I could be turning all of us into contemporary Shakespeares. Or, I suppose, I could just be a niminy-piminy chit.

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2 thoughts on “The Devil’s Clack Dish: Cursing the curse words

  1. If you really want to go old school, pick up a copy of the book “Extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds.” I don’t remember the author, but it’s got a bunch of catch phrases that swept through England in the 1700 or 1800s, if don’t remember which. My favorites – “Has your mother sold her mangle?” “There he goes with his eye out” and “What a shocking bad hat!”
    It also has a very interesting chapter on the tulip-mania that swept Europe, where tulip bulbs were selling for extraordinary prices, until the bottom fell out of the market.

  2. Good response! I laughed aloud at “Has your mother sold her mangle?” I can’t wait to use the expression although, frankly, I believe I should address it to the mirror.
    I’ll look for that book. The Brits, like Texans, have always made the language jump. Do you remember that Belmans “Madeline” book about the “Bad Hat”? I’ve always loved the expression.
    Have you ever read Pollan’s The Botany of Desire? He’s got a good chapter on the tulips as well.

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