Thursday, January 17, 2008

Verbal Abuse

Winter Landscape,
Daniel Garber ( 1880-1958)
oil on canvas.

Now and then I come across variations, amounting to a minor cliche, of the blushing sailor, as in "he gave vent to language/let out a string of epithets that would make a longshoreman/company sergeant/sailor blush."
Or some version of "an inclusive catelogue, in detail and at length, of the perverse sexual habits and proclivities of my matrilineal ancestors."
Bah. So general. Disappoints me. I want examples.
This weasley avoidance, this lack of precision, may be a reflection of the policy of the previous and more genteel age when one of the purposes of literature was to elevate the reader -- as well as the desire to avoid condemnation by women's institutes in the interests of sensible self-preservation.
By avoiding the items of excoriation, writers often turned such characters into stereotypes.
But rarely in my reading have I seen examples, even in our more democratic prose -- extended, robust, specific examples of a good-ole, vulgar, rip-roaring calling-down.
And today's ultimate affront, calling someone a "mother-effer," lacks creativity in insult.
Weak, I call it. Prissy.
Just another stereotype.


Jaye Wells said...

Sing it, sister!

Does this mean we can look forward to "extended, robust, specific examples of good-ole, vulgar rip-roaring call-down" in A Malignity of Ghosts?

BernardL said...

In this instance, I prefer the vague stereotype.

bunnygirl said...

There are times when word-for-word dialogue is called for, and times when it's not. This is regardless of the actual words being spoken.

I take issue with writers who gloss over vulgarities out of prissiness or a fear of offending, but I also don't want someone to spell out every "fuck" and "cocksucker" just to prove they're not afraid to say it. Any words can be overused, and the best swearing is like a habanero chile-- a little at the right place and time is all you need.

There's no excuse for cliche, though, and blushing sailors fall into that category. Ugh.

Bernita said...

Alas, Jaye, no.
I have no talent for invective.
Maybe why I like to read it.

I imagine you have heard some remarkable expressions in your day, Bernard!

True, Bunny.
Perhaps I should make it clear that I'm not picketing for single terms like those ( unless they fit and are used effectively and sparingly.)
They are not particularly creative.

Robyn said...

I just want to hear the riff, profanity laden or not. Don't tell me she ripped him a new one, let me hear it!

moonrat said...

you know, shakespeare used up most of the really good ones


"unnatural abortive rooting hog"


"you blocks, you stones, you less than worthless things"

try here:

for further fun.

Bernita said...

Right, Robyn. Show, don't tell.

That's exactly it, MoonDear, a la Shakespeare.
Be not lily-white, whey-faced poltroons in thy description.
Roister it, Doisters, drop your pantywaists!

raine said...

I do love a good CREATIVE dressing-down or expression of frustration, lol.
And we DO worry about offending our readers sometimes, don't we? Curious, when we're now so free with body parts, orifices and fluids, etc...

Bernita said...

Yup, and those have become so familiar they lack impact,Raine, and then the characters speaking them begin to lose impact too.

I think the last good line of that type I saw was "Your mother hunts by scent."

Anonymous said...

If the whole piece is filled with 'nasty words,' then it's very silly to suddenly make a sailor blush. And when it's a lapse and unexpected, then I want to hear it. And, yes, overused phrase.

I wonder if sailors curse more than cooks? My husband sometimes gives me the evil eye for language (Spanish), but he forgets I learned it working in a kitchen, with him.


StarvingWriteNow said...

There's a good insult in "Dune" that goes on for about 17 words or so. Can't remember it at the moment...

My favorite "cussing" to this day is Patrick McManus' take on the situation:

"Bleeping-bleep-of a bleep!"

BernardL said...

'I imagine you have heard some remarkable expressions in your day, Bernard!'

Very true, Bernita; but none I care to repeat, or read in a novel for the sake of keeping it real. I have an imagination. Give me the vague, and I'll fill in the blanks. :)

Bernita said...

Hee, Gwen!
Sailors were the designated bad example group at one time and became the stereotype for a lot of things.

Starving,I must watch for that the next time I re-read Dune.
I saw a "Die Hard" on channel on the weekend, it was very bleeped.

I hope you understand, Bernard, I don't mean the basic four-letter words - unless they're presented in novel ways.
One can be colourful with being ( entirely) crude.

Lana Gramlich said...

Side note; I'm personally trying to use the term "Lord tunderin' Jesus" (said with proper Nova Scotian accent) more these days. Down here in the deep South, however, it's likely to get me in more trouble than if I'd just said f*ck. Beautiful painting today, btw.

Scott from Oregon said...

Reminds me of the faux Frenchman in Monty Python's "Holy Grail"--

"Your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries..."

(or was it the other way around?)

At any rate, classic mudslinging that proved extremely comical (and often quoted).

I agree. Don't step gingerly around the dog turds. It only makes them less turdy, and subtracts from the intent of the animal that put them there.

SzélsőFa said...

I think a writer can describe that his character is vulgar without using the actual words.
I dislike reading those words. I don't think it is necessary to overuse f..k and the like for example.
Using bad language can also be a cliche. Or a filler. None welcomed.

Bernita said...

my apologies, but... it's "Lard Tunderin' Gee-sus", said in a proper newfie accent.

Some good examples there, Scott.
King said " a frosted dog turd is still a dog turd" but I think the frosted kind are funnier.

"I don't think it is necessary to overuse f..k and the like for example.
Using bad language can also be a cliche. Or a filler."
Exactly, Szelsofa.

spyscribbler said...

Oh, I love a good rip-roaring call-down! What a treat it would be to read one!

The "make a sailor blush" cliche does drive me crazy! It is an easy out for those authors who wish to respect some reader's complaints about language.

(I personally would wish those readers to take the stick out of you-know-where, but, you know. That's cool.)

Lisa said...

Slinking off in shame now. Oh the humanity! I just used the "would make a sailor blush" cliche. I'm so ashamed! Thanks for posting this. It's a first draft and I didn't like it when I did it, but you've given me the tough love I needed to revise that worn out phrase right out of there. And I promise not to replace "sailor" with "longshoreman" or "truck driver" either.

Bernita said...

"It's an easy out"
-that's the problem, Natasha.
It's lazy.
A generality is one thing but it need not be compounded by a cliche.

Hey, hey, Lisa!
"first draft" and "I didn't like it" says you would have replaced it without any talk from me.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm not fond of too much swearing, and I totally hate the f-word. That said, a very moderate use of it may enhance dialogue and tell us something about a character, but if I find f-bombs on every page, I'll drop the book.

I'm an old fashioned girl in that aspect.

Chumplet said...

The hockey players in my upcoming book don't avoid the occasional f-word, and in my WIP a teenager has a foul mouth. I don't hold back with her dialogue because it's part of her character to 'swear like trucker.'

I like Jean Shepherd's description of Ralphie's dad's language. "He wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as I know are still hanging over Lake Michigan."

Anonymous said...

The best stream of invective I have ever heard is Chevy Chase's mad monologue in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when he finds his boss has stiffed him on his Xmas bonus (back when such things were still common). Here's the quote. Sensitive readers, avert your eyes.

"...I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is. Hallelujah, Holy shit. Where's the Tylenol?"

His delivery is brilliant.


Charles Gramlich said...

I generally find, the richer the vocabulary, the more creative the cursing. Cursing like a college English professor is much worse than like a longshoreman.

Church Lady said...

Thing 1 and Thing 2 often resort to the harshest of explicatives.

"You are a Chicken Noodle Soup."

Since they're both vegetarian, I guess this is extreme.

the walking man said...

Here ya go:

I have seen so many Goddamn doctors lately that I would like to kick them in the ass so hard that i would have to follow them around all day until they can get to a proctologist to remove my foot from their asshole.

I'd do it in a flash forcing thier pants down and swiftly booting them but I am the one naked under the fucking robe and once they extracted my foot it would be covered in their shit as opposed to my ears covered in that same excrement.



Bernita said...

You may remember, Gabriele, I've confessed to using the f-word only about five or six times in my entire life, and have employed it in wip's precisely twice.
Over-use dillutes the effect.

"obscenities that as far as I know are still hanging over Lake Michigan."
~like a cloud~
Eh, Sandra, that's entirely visual!

Asa, an excellent example!
So deliciously detailed and comprehensive.

Exactly, Charles!
Such pick a letter. There are a lot of impressive words beginning with "i" for example, "improvident, insolent, impudent, intestine... a string of those alone can make some impressive invective.

And in context, Chris, shatteringly effective!

Walking Man, now that's vivid. Again, it's in the detail beyond just "a kick in the ass."
Creates reader sympathy too.

Xenith said...

I can understand when this is done in SF or fantaty. If you have a world that's substantially different to ours, then using the same curse worlds just jars, but anything you make up, sounds corny. Maybe the odd word or two will work, but stringing together a bunch of them, no thanks :(

Bernita said...

Tara's Tits, Xenith, if enough attention is paid to world building and depth psychology, it won't sound "corny."
Too many writers make otherworlders sound all noble and high minded. Every society has its invective.

Ello said...

That was too funny, Ms. B! I loved it!

Steve Malley said...

Billy Connolly used to do a great bit on 'non-cursing' with his kids in the car. "FaYaaa" and "GediFaa" played large roles.

Nonetheless, I remain a fan of invective ala Johnny Dangerously. Few curses are finer than "Farging Icehole Corksucker"! :)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ello.
You know I wouldn't say shit if I had a mouthful.

One has to admire genius, Steve.