What’s in a dirty word? Remembering Lenny

Finally I was called as a witness in my own behalf. I took the stand and Mr. Bendich examined me.
Q. Mr. Bruce, Mr. Wollenberg yesterday said (to Dr. Gottlieb) specifically that you had said, “Eat it.” Did you say that?
A. No, I never said that.
Q. What did you say, Mr. Bruce?
A. What did I say when?
Q. On the night of October fourth.
MR. WOLLENBERG: There’s no testimony that Mr. Wollenberg said that Mr. Bruce said, “Eat it,” the night of October fourth, if your honor please.
THE COURT: The question is: What did he say?
THE WITNESS: I don’t mean to be facetious. Mr. Wollenberg said “Eat it.” I said “Kiss it.”
MR. BENDICH: Do you apprehend there is a significant difference between the two phrases, Mr. Bruce?
A. “Kissing it” and “eating it,” yes, sir. Kissing my mother goodbye and eating my mother goodbye, there is a quantity of difference.
—Lenny Bruce, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People

If there was ever an example of a manipulation and exploitation of the context in which words were intentionally made to be confusing, that would be it. Taken out of context, both kiss and eat are entirely benign. We do them all the time, although we should probably be doing more of the former and less of the latter. Taken in context, Bruce’s use of “kissing it” had the exact same intention as “eating it.” In no way was the verb “kissing,” as Bruce used it here, similar to the kissing he might bestow upon his mother. In fact, had it been a French court, “kissing it” would have been even more derogatory that “eating it” since the French use “baiser”—to kiss—as a correlative to our “fucking.” Calling someone a “baiseur” is tantamount to us calling him a “fucker.” Direct swearing in public was severely frowned upon in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and it was subject to fine or even imprisonment. Satirists like Bruce therefore often couched their expletives in careful substitution of double entendre. I say “often,” because it was also Bruce’s custom to shoot straight from the hip with unvarnished four-letter words—and longer. Whether it was his rants against government or his playful dissecting of words and phrases, I would go on to add that if there was one individual in the last hundred years who altered the way we speak in public, it was Lenny Bruce.

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Like I’m talking to a sexually intercoursing wall!

Plenty has been penned about the history, derivation, and usage of the word “fuck,” so there is no need to rehash it here. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of it that while mentioned is mostly glossed over. In English, at least, “fuck” is the most mercurial of swear words because it has escaped and run from the confines of its sexual root. While every other European language has its own word for “fuck,” English appears to be unique in its more universal application. Let’s take the following joke as an example:

In Jerusalem, a female journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall, and there he was! She watched him pray, and after about forty-five minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview.

“I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?

“For about fifty years.”

“Fifty years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”

“I pray for peace between the Jews and the Arabs. I pray for all hatred to stop, and I pray for our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”

“How do you feel after doing this for fifty years?

“Like I’m talking to a fucking wall.”

To understand the uniqueness of this joke in English, try literally translating it into any other European language. The punch line would make no sense to a Frenchman. Although he does have a respective—or dis-respective—verb “foutre” and the milder “baiser,” he would wonder why someone is referring to intercourse with a wall. “That fucking wall” would be something along the lines of “cette putain de mur” in French, or “that whore of a wall,” and Spanish would be similar. The French are also quite enamored of shit—“vous me faites chier,” which literally means “you make me shit,” but implies that “you bore me.” The sacrosanct “fucking” is reserved for, well, “fucking.” Continue reading

Sex on the Beach, Monkey Glands, and other cocktails

Adios, Motherfucker, Blue Balls, Suck, Bang, and Blow, and Mountain Dew Me. What’s in a name—indeed! But these are but a few of the hundreds of cocktails out there that have one ingredient in common: sex. I don’t think I’m alone in this, but even the word “cocktail” can rouse a small titter from the sixth-grader in me. Leave it to George Carlin to expound upon the word: “Women want cock, men want tail.” Naughtily named cocktails have been around for quite some time, though. The Angel’s Tit was a prohibition drink, so-named because the creamy white cocktail, topped with a cherry in exactly the right place, resembled—well, you get the idea. But the drink that started the ball rolling, so to speak, was Sex on the Beach.

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The Finger, or “Bird Is the Word”

Nixon did it, and so did Kennedy. George W. Bush has been caught numerous times on tape grinning broadly and flashing what he called the “one-finger salute.” It has been described as “flipping someone off” or “giving someone the bird,” but when it comes right down to it, the gesture of raising the middle finger ultimately translates as “fuck you!” Every nation has its own array of verbal assaults, but they also have their arsenal of insulting gestures as well. In the United States, the ubiquitous finger is our call to arms. Unlike swearing aloud, which is based upon actual words with specific meanings, gestures are purely visual, and the finger has a kind of inherent meaning that words don’t have. In our case, the raised finger was initially most likely meant to resemble the erect penis, with the tucked-under fingers as testicles. As obvious as this may be, few people—if any—ever consider that notion when “flipping off” the trucker who just cut in front of you on the highway.

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