Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What did you say?

Something I read today made me starting thinking about "dirty" words and how we relate to them.

Being a writer, I love all the words, and I don't mind using most of them. What we consider dirty words, or cussing, or whatever you want to call it, don't bother me at all, in principle. Now, I have to admit that it can get on my nerves when someone can't manage to use those words correctly or can't spell them, it bothers me. That's just the grammar snob in me. That includes using them every other word, because that's just not creative. But the words themselves? They don't bother me.

I can remember being in the eleventh grade and having a very serious conversation with a couple of other students in my mythology class about this. We decided that words are just words, and that none of them are "bad" in and of themselves. They only take on the meaning we assign to them as a culture and as users of whatever language we happen to speak.

Which brings me to what I read today that made me think about all this. In the (online) conversation, which had to do with which form of a particular phrase was correct, someone mentioned some of what they thought of as silly expressions used where they live, or used to live (that wasn't quite clear) in Utah. They named several that I was familiar with, such as "Oh, my heck." But I lived in Utah for a short while a long time ago, too, and they missed my own personal favorite substitute word.


As in "What the fetch?" Or, as in "Oh, fetch."

I'll bet you've already figured out what word fetch stands for in both of these phrases.

I always found it very silly when I heard those coming out of the mouths of the Mormons I knew who used "fetch" as a substitute for "fuck", both in Utah and here in California. I suppose some other cultural or religious group might use the same substitution, but I've never heard anyone not Mormon use that particular one. Because, of course, they were good Mormons, and couldn't possibly allow the word "fuck" to cross their lips. God might get mad at them.

It used to drive the people I knew who used that substitution to distraction, because I would always call them on it. "You know," I would say to them, "just because you don't say "fuck" doesn't mean you aren't thinking it. And isn't thinking it as bad as saying it, according to the church?"

"Oh, no", they would always insist. "As long as I don't say that word, it's fine."

And I would insist right back that what mattered was what they were thinking, and explain my theory that a word means whatever meaning we assign to it. So, if they were saying "fetch" where anyone else would say "fuck" - and they were - that was their meaning and their intention and, according to their religion, they shouldn't be saying it.

I got a lot of tortured rationalizations from them about the use of "fetch", and I doubt that I ever really convinced any of them that saying "fetch" was the moral equivalent of saying "fuck", and so using their word was just as much a violation of their religious beliefs as going ahead and saying "fuck". I'd tell them that as long as that was the meaning they were conveying, they might as well use the correct word. Because, you know, "fetch", in general usage, doesn't mean anything near what they are using it for. Really. "What the go get me that thing over there and bring it to me?" That is absolutely not how they were using the word when the said, "What the fetch?" There are other meanings of the word "fetch", too. I went and looked it up. But none of those meanings make any sense at all when it is used in "What the fetch?"

It's like using "darn" for "damn" or "heck" for "hell". You aren't using the correct terminology. And I am enough of a grammar snob that this bothers me. A lot.

You know, if someone doesn't want to swear or cuss out of a philosophical or religious opposition to doing so, that's fine with me. But if that's the case, they shouldn't turn around and just use other words in the place of what they consider to be curse words. It defeats the whole purpose of not swearing when they do that.

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