|Good Morning.... Vietnam!!|
Everyone has their own pet peeves. My students call the woman who gives them parking tickets the Parking-Nazi. Except she's not a Nazi. She doesn't throw babies on spikes or stick metal instruments up women for funsies. She doesn't rape, murder, or torture anyone. She gives parking tickets to those who have violated very clear rules because it is her job.This doesn't make her a Nazi.
Why It Bothers Me:
It minimizes what a Nazi really was and the horrors they inflicted. The farther we get from the historical event, the more important it is to retain the poignancy of the word. I believe associating a word that represents savage acts of brutality and sadistic cruelty with joking things like Parking-Nazi, Femi-Nazi, Pizza-Nazi, what have you, we lose the power of the word Nazi to send shivers down our bones. It bloody well should send shivers down our bones.
2. My Own Personal Vietnam
It becomes very cute to exaggerate a horrible and somewhat damaging personal experience by saying "it was like my own personal Vietnam." It is trending right now and I appreciate the hyperbole because absolutely no one in the world ever in the history of time has ever been as hyperbolic as me...
Why It Bothers Me:
Like the Soup-Nazi, it minimizes something serious and that's dangerous. My father is a Vietnam Veteran and I am proud of him. He was on a carrier ship and so avoided many of the horrors of that war. But the grief and trauma inflicted and suffered by the soldiers who served in Vietnam is not funny. Given how quick we were to jump into the wars we are involved in now, I think it is more important to not forget the seriousness of Vietnam.
3. That's Retarded
As a writer, I understand comedy is inextricably intertwined with tragedy. For example, the debate about the word "retarded" is a clash between political correctness, valuing the feelings of the disabled, humor, literal definition, and common usage. I have a mentally-retarded uncle, and have been having this debate with friends for years. I never felt offended for my uncle because my uncle is awesome. Probably, I'm wrong. I'm definitely trying to stop saying it, since I don't let my brother say "that's so gay." I'm torn between which upsets me more, laziness or offense.
Sometimes this debate spills over to the usage of words like Bitch, Nigger, Cunt, Fag (all of which have been book titles written by a member of the group who is trying to "reclaim" the word). Do we say the words? Do we not say the words? Do we say "the b word"? Does that have an even worse effect? Why should I say "fuck" instead of "frick" or "fudge" instead of "fuck"? Let's listen to Louis C.K.:
And also, how many times is my stupid phone going to autocorrect fucking to ducking right as I am trying to angry-text? "You ducking idiot!" does not have the same powerful effect. And by the way, "stupid" and "idiot" used to have essentially the same meaning as "mentally retarded." I would love it if we came up with a book of equally potent words we could use instead.
But as a teacher I feel it is important to save the vitality of language and the original power of the words and concepts themselves. I wouldn't say "fuck" in the classroom but I feel inhibited from saying it here, even though I completely believe that it feels better to say it than to say "%^&". Sometimes people use it lazily when other language would have worked better. But occasionally I think its more powerful to say "fuck" particularly when it adds to the humor of what one is saying.
If you don't like profanity, please *do not* click on this link. But it explains my views on language, intentionally using a lot of profanity, and how things can be beautiful with profanity too, including an entire scene from The Wire which relies almost solely on the word "fuck" and a beautiful revision of a rap song by Ben Folds. But don't visit the link if you are sensitive because you will definitely need some Orbitz.
Wash Your Mouth Out with Soap
In the classroom, I am working on not saying "that sucks" when I try to commiserate with a student's experience because, really, that phrase is not appropriate. I used to get soap in my mouth when I said things like that. And guess what? My mom used liquid fucking soap! Trust me, Liquid Dial down the throat deserves a "fucking!" I burped bubbles all day.
As a side note, here are some things I have learned from playing Words With Friends:
-- Slut is not a word (an actual word featured in many classic works of literature)
-- ShitDick is a word
-- Fag is not a word (a word that means cigarette and also means kindling, which comes from our proud history of burning people at the stake - I think it is pretty important to know that actually, that calling someone a Faggot refers to a practice of burning people alive who are different than the mainstream).
I can't tell if Words With Friends is being politically correct or just stupid. Or if I'm just bitter because I really could have made a killing with the word "slut" and instead got whomped by the word "shitdick" and also whomped is not a word.
Who are we going to listen to? Words With Friends? Spellcheck? Autocorrect? English teachers?
More importantly, should I get in trouble if I say nigger instead of the "n" word when we are talking about Flannery O'Connor's use of the word? Why is it okay (or not) to say it when critiquing a historical period, but not okay walking down the street? Should I talk to students about misusing the words ironic and literally?Or am I just being pedantic? If so, then why is it okay to say Soup-Nazi? What is it that we really care about? Political correctness or the power of language to accurately and precisely express the full range of human experience?
What words or phrases bother you? Do we make too much out of language or not enough?