Well, apart from those with colostomy bags, I suspect that probably everyone during the course of an ordinary day lets loose at least one emission of “confidential information.” Yet, it comes as no breaking news that discussing it—let alone passing on that information in public—can be more taboo than ventilating any of George Carlin’s “heavy seven” cuss words?
This was not always the case. And Jonathan Swift (expressing himself under the nom de plume Fartinhando Puffindorst, Professor of Bumbast in the University of Cracow) cleared the air of this sonorous subject in his 1722 opus The Benefit of Farting Explained: or Fundamental Cause of the Distempers Incident to the Fair Sex (Proving, a posteriori, most of the disorders entailed on them are owing to flatulencies not seasonably vented). Meanwhile, the prominent Parliamentarian Whig and wit Charles James Fox tooted his own trumpet on the subject in his 1787 An Essay on Wind, in which he resonantly gushes, “Fart loud, I say, and never more be restrained by example, age, rank, or sex, for it is natural and laudable, wholesome and laughable, humorous and comfortable.” Continue reading
My father-in-law was an elegant man who spoke five languages—six if you count bad language. The latter was seldom spoken in public, but in private among family and friends he could light up the sky with his procession of incandescent oaths. When he caught himself, which was not often, he would then apologize claiming that it was a nasty habit he picked up in the army. Yes, “war is hell,” as the saying goes, and a great deal more. My father-in-law was not alone in this predicament. Most of the veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War with whom I have spoken have, like my father-in-law, blamed the military lifestyle and, in particular, life during wartime, as the source for their unbridled profanity. Considering the unfamiliar, trying, and often life-threatening circumstances, who can blame them? It seems to make sense, then, to dive back into in those trenches.
Most of us who have traveled abroad have usually toted along some sort of guidebook, be it Michelin’s Guide France, Baedeker’s Germany, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They generally include a slew of phrases the authors assume you will find essential: “Do you speak English?” “Have you any ready-made clothes?” “Is the bed well-aired?’ “What time is the next steamer?” Rarely, if ever, do you see supremely useful phrases. “Excuse me. Is this the way to Jim Morrison’s tomb?” And you will never find what you eventually need more than anything else, a good, hearty swear: “This is bullshit!”
Having spent some time in France and Argentina, I managed to pick up a few choice morsels omitted from the venerable guides. Since we are packing lightly for our journey, here are a few words that might come in handy when all else fails.
“Fuck the children!”
Growing up in the late 1950s I was naive enough to believe that adults did not curse—for a while. In fact, like so many other kids back then, I even thought that perhaps some of them did not know how to swear. No, not my parents, for sure. I recall an incident one evening in our tiny Queens apartment over a Laundromat when my folks were hosting a party. There I was, a second-grader serenely playing in the corner of the living room, having my toy soldiers killing each other off, when I overheard my father’s friend Pat say to him, “Ha, ha! Grand pricks.” Continue reading
We have all heard them—or misheard them: “There’s a bathroom on the right” (for “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” from “Bad Moon Rising,” by Creedence Clearwater Revival); “Might as well face it, you’re a dick with a glove” (for “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love,” from “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer); and perhaps the most famous of all, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy,” (for “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” from “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix). That last mishearing was so prevalent, legend has it that Jimi himself would occasionally stop and kiss a guy after singing this line in concert. If you have ever wondered what these mishearings are called, now you know: they’re mondegreens. According to William Safire of The New York Times, the term mondegreen dates from a 1954 magazine article by Sylvia Wright in which she said she had misheard the folk lyric “and laid him on the green” as “and Lady Mondegreen.”