Back in 2015 I wrote about visual swears in film, where profanity appears on the screen rather than on the soundtrack. The films featured in that post were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade II, Shoot ’Em Up, Runaway Train, and Sorry to Bother You. Since then I’ve gathered a fuckload more.
Visual swears can have all sorts of motivations for filmmakers: humour, attitude, character type or mood, place detail, meta-commentary, and so on. After all, they’re deliberately built into a film’s production design – unless it’s a documentary, in which case they’re still selected in the framing and editing.
The first film below happens to be a documentary, and a great one: Dark Days (2000), which explores the lives of people living in a disused New York subway tunnel. One of them labels a makeshift toilet SHIT SPOT, perhaps for both informational and comedic reasons:
It’s a couple of years since our last fuck shit stack of sweary songs, and almost five since we began this series at the Rotten Cocksuckers’ Ball. So it’s about fucking time we posted some more bawdy blues and mothercussin’ melodies.
Much of the audio below is NSFW, if that still means anything, but it straddles the range from super-profane to merely suggestive. Genre-wise it’s cheerfully all over the place, so if you don’t like one, try the next.
LaVern Baker and Jackie Wilson clearly enjoyed this party version of ‘Think Twice’:
I said you better think twice, Jackie
Before you call me a dirty ho
I’ve got news for you, little boy
Don’t fuck with me no mo’
We’re pleased AF to let you know that “History of Swear Words,” will launch on Netflix January 5, 2021. The series—six 20-minute episodes—will consider the etymologies, false etymologies, and usage of six classic swears: fuck, shit, dick, bitch, pussy, and damn.
We’re especially pleased that one of our Strong Language co-fuckers, lexicographer Kory Stamper, was one of the consultants for the show. The other experts include cognitive scientist and author of What the F Benjamin Bergen; linguist Anne Charity Hudley; professor of feminist studies Mireille Miller-Young; film critic Elvis Mitchell; and author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing Melissa Mohr.
Nicolas Cage will host.
More details here. And let’s hope for a second season so we can delve into asshole, cunt, cocksucker, and other sweary faves.
Sentimentally, we like to think that ladies of an earlier time — mostly our grandmothers and great-grandmothers — lived virtuous lives, without swearing. When Joseph Mitchell profiled A. S. Colborne, who spent much of his life trying to exterminate profanity, for The New Yorker in 1941, he captured the paradoxical view of women’s swearing, partly as a function of class, at that time. When Mitchell visited one day, Colborne explained, “I’m sort of sleepy … Sat up late last night studying over bar and grill profanity. Why, the women are worse than the men. And you can’t talk to them! Why, they’ll spit in your eye!” But then, he remembered that when he first started admonishing swearers on the street, he would insist, “‘Your dear old mother never taught you to talk like that. Think it over!” But maybe some mothers did, and some classy women of the mid-twentieth century apparently swore a lot, whatever our mythology.
I was reminded of this while reading Janet Somerville’s new selection of Martha Gellhorn’s letters, Yours, for probably always (Firefly Books, 2019) and then Caroline Morehead’s Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life (Henry Holt and Company, 2003). Gellhorn is a remarkable writer, perhaps most famous for her war reporting. The final edition of The Face of War (1988), collects dispatches from the Spanish Civil War, the wars in Finland and China, Word War II, wars in Java and Vietnam, the Six Day War, and Central American wars. She wrote fiction, too, perhaps most importantly The Trouble I’ve Seen (1936), four stories about the Great Depression. To my mind, Gellhorn is one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.
Yes, 2020 has been a shitshow, but at Strong Language we still observe the niceties—or the naughtyties—of ritual and tradition. Here are gifts that evoke the spirit of the season and the whole fucking year.