b Papa Dog's Blog: Swearing, Spike, and Woody

Papa Dog's Blog

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Swearing, Spike, and Woody

It’s an old observation, but a true one, that we all have a variety of modes of speech and ranges of vocabulary ready for different social contexts. We speak differently depending on whose ear we’re bending. I might choose to describe the same fat guy I saw on BART to three different people, but if those people are Mama Dog, my mom, and the fat guy’s ugly girlfriend, they’ll get three different versions and widely varying degrees of scorn. The most obvious example of this phenomenon in my growed-up life has been the difference between how I talk at work and how I talk at home. As much as possible, I try not to talk at all at work, but when I must, I try to keep it brief, innocuous, and formal. I have a bit of stevedore mouth on my own time, but I keep it G-rated at the office. This isn’t something I’ve ever made a conscious practice of…it just works out that way. I didn’t even notice it was the case until the first time a co-worker uttered a profanity and then apologised to me. I was baffled at first. Why was I getting an apology? And then it hit me – oh, yeah, she’s never heard me swear. She probably thinks I’m an Osmond or something. That scenario has played out a bunch of times over the years, and it’s always a woman who blurts the vulgarity and then begs my pardon. What am I, a clergyman? Well, technically, yeah, but they don’t know that. That’s why I was so surprised today when not once but twice in the same conversation I heard myself uttering unmentionables at the office. Phrase #1 was “shitload of overtime” and phrase #2 was “it drives me bugfuck.” I’ve worked at this place for – what is it? – ten of the last sixteen years, and I don’t think I’ve ever before said two swear words in a row to any co-worker I didn’t already know before they started working there. I’m not sure how to account for this sudden shift in propriety, except to suppose that I’ve grown lax in my three months off the clock. Much as a child might be scolded for using his “outdoor” voice in a restaurant, I appear to be using my “at home” mouth at the office.

We’ve been wondering lately when the time will come to stop using out at home mouths at home. Baby Dog is obviously still too young to even understand what we’re saying most of the time (she clearly recognises “ah-goo,” but that’s about it), but she is, as they say, a sponge. She hears everything and is absorbing, accumulating knowledge and experience, trying to make sense of the myriad new stimuli and impulses she encounters every day. The other night, we were watching Do the Right Thing, which neither Mama Dog nor I had seen since it first came out. Baby Dog has generally slept through movies up til now, but in the last week she’s been spending more time awake. As she sat on her bouncy chair, looking at the bright palette of Spike’s colours for a hot summer day, we started to wonder just how many of the muthafuckas were getting through to her. For that matter, we started to wonder how much of our everyday profanity was being processed and stored away. Our all-purpose adjectival phrase round these parts is “-ass muh’fuh'n,” as in, “It’s a hot-ass muh’fuh’n day,” or “That’s a big-ass muh’fuh’n baby,” or “This is some tasty-ass muh’fuh’n ice cream.” Who knows at what level “ratfuckbastid” is going to lodge in her little expanding brain, and at what three-year-old birthday party it will suddenly come bubbling back out. “Here’s your present, ya ratfuckbastid! Happy birthday!”

I don’t know, and I guess I’m not going to know for years. But – rapidly shifting gears here – what the hell has happened to Spike Lee, anyway? He hasn’t really had any cultural impact of note since Malcolm X, though he’s trotted out a movie every year as gamely as that other New York auteur, Woody Allen. Actually, Spike and Woody have a lot in common now that I think about it, in terms of the little niches they’ve carved for themselves in the film industry. They’re both really hit and miss but never have any trouble finding someone to pony up for their next project. I think Woody’s average is probably better than Spike’s. Every fourth movie or so is really good. As for Spike, I liked 25th Hour a lot, but other than that I can’t think of anything in his post-Malcolm output that’s really done it for me.

I think that’s going to have to be it for now. Not much of a clear arc on this one, but hey, I had a busy day at hell, not much time at home, and they can’t all be pearls.

1 Comments:

Blogger Twizzle said...

Excellent post today, Papa Dog! You had me cackling audibly in my red, faux leather 50s-era Pentagon chair while I pictured our daughter sitting in her little Fisher Price bouncy chair absorbing every "muthuh fuckah" uttered by the characters in Mr. Lee's movie. I also liked this example of our home vernacular: "tasty-ass muh'fuh'n ice cream." Yup, we sure do utter us some profanity around the house. Better read up on what Dr. Spock has to say on the subject.

When I was a kid, at the end of the summer, I would worry that I wouldn't be able to control my "summer/home mouth" when back at school. Although I didn't know about this particular pathology at the time, I feared having Tourette's syndrome!

I can relate to the work/home mouth dichotomy. I, too, have always kept up a very formal and polite demeanor at work -- and have had people gasp when I've accidentally cussed. People are shocked when I say something like, "I can't fucking believe that A/P hasn't cut that vendor a check yet when the terms are net 30!" Ah, work. I don't miss it.

8:37 AM  

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