Friday, June 08, 2007

Naughty, naughty

Since then, fuck has remained consistently offensive, though it has lost some of its original punch. The word only developed its nonsexual meanings in the late 19th century. (You can find that usage in Civil War court-martial records, for instance.) The word became much more widely used after World War I and now, along with shit, accounts for half the swearing that goes on in public. At this point, even our president and vice president will use it casually in its nonsexual sense. In March 2002, Bush interrupted a meeting Condoleezza Rice was holding and yelled, ""Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out!" And Dick Cheney famously said "Go fuck yourself" to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate.

Most often, swear words grow less vulgar with time. Back in Shakespeare's day, when one's lineage mattered a lot more, the word bastard was so offensive it was often written "b-d." Contemporary readers might not recognize the power of a line like this one, spoken by Capt. MacMorris in Act III of Henry V: "What about my nation? Is my nation a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal?" Meanwhile, shit was once a standard Old English word for feces. Today, it remains one of the most versatile vulgarities in our language. These days, you can be "shit-scared" (so scared you shit yourself), live in a "shit hole," or have "shit for brains" (be dumb). And, of course, the shit can also hit the fan. President Bush used another version when he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the United Nations needed to "get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."
I don't necessarily think that because a President says something, it's suddenly okay -- especially when we consider the President we're talking about here. But anyways.

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