THE POWER OF DIRTY WORDS
THE POWER OF DIRTY WORDS--Illustrated!!!
by Norman Spinrad
In memorium: Lenny Bruce
Fuck, shit, piss, cunt.
Have I gotten your attention?
Of course I have!
These words have that magic power.
As we all know, fuck, shit, piss, and cunt are the rock bottom basic “dirty words.” Neither the New York Times nor any other establishment publication will print them. They may not be uttered on broadcast television.
Copulate, defecate, urinate, vagina.
These four words mean precisely the same things, but are perfectly kosher for polite discourse, publication, and prime time.
We all know that too, but do we all know why copulate, defecate, urinate, and vagina are “clean,” whereas their exact synonyms, fuck, shit, piss, and cunt are “dirty?” Why these words even have the power to render such innocently “clean” words like mother, eater, face, sucker, “dirty” by appending such taboo “Anglo-Saxon expletives” to them? Why I observed an infuriated Frenchman futilely attempting to fully express his ire by cursing in his native language but forced to finally satisfy himself by screaming FUCK! at the top of his lungs?
Well it all dates back to 1066 A.D. when the Norman French conquered England, the land of English-speaking....Anglo-Saxons. Latin was already the language of the Catholic Church, and hence the language of religious and intellectual discourse. French became the language of the court and the hereditary nobility, the language of the economic and political ruling class.
This was the depth of the so-called “Middle Ages,” A.K.A the “Dark Ages.” There were three clear-cut classes in a pyramidal societal hierarchy: the Church, the Nobility with Royalty at its pinnacle, and more or less most everyone else except a small minority of craftsmen, the Peasantry, A.K.A. Serfdom.
In French-conquered England, the three classes spoke three different languages. The language of the conquering power was French, the language of religious power and high-toned intellectual discourse was Latin, and the language of the conquered natives who became the lowest class serfs had already been a proto-English “Anglo-Saxon.”
Furthermore, French being a derivative of Latin, a so-called “Romance Language,” it shared the phoneme musicality of its mother tongue, whereas the Germanic phonemes of Anglo-Saxon had a rough, guttural, and uncouth musicality to upper-class Latinate ears, a crude and inferior language appropriate to the crude, inferior, conquered Anglo-Saxon peasants.
And on top of this was the rigidly theological subjugation of libidinal sexuality in the service of the psychological, political, and social power of the Catholic Church. The Church powers that were may not have fully understood the why of what they were doing as we can today, but they knew enough to know the haiku version that “you can’t control a man with his dick in his hand,” though of course they would probably have been incapable of even thinking such a thing, let alone uttering it, in blunt Anglo-Saxon English, and it loses quite a lot in Latin or French translation.
Today we know that sexual pleasure is experienced by the biochemical excitation of the pleasure center in the human brain caused by the stimulation of specific nerves in the vagina, clitoris, penis, and arguably the anus. We also know that there are other means of exciting the pleasure center, such as drugs, tantric yoga, mystical states, intellectual satisfaction, love, and so forth, and that this neurological and biochemical stimulation of the pleasure center by whatever means is the physiological basis of all positive reinforcement.
And that control of the means of physiological positive reinforcement is the most effective means of psychological, and therefore social, and therefore cultural, and therefore political, control. The Medieval Catholic Church may not have known the science, but it knew how to narrow down most other sources of pleasure center positive reinforcement to the one it controlled, and it knew that sexual pleasure was the strongest because most direct route to pleasure center stimulation and therefore its most dangerous competitor.
Which therefore had to be suppressed, declared the evil temptation of Satan, allowed only when sanctioned by itself in marriage and deemed a necessary evil even then. Made conceptually and morally “dirty” and likewise the organs involved. And conveniently enough, all these organs were also organs of excretion, and humans are hard-wired for sound biological reasons to find the odors of urine and feces repulsive, disgusting, and therefore “dirty.”
You will note that his cold scientific explication of the physiological basis and political usage of the Church’s anti-sexuality and the theological means of achieving and enforcing it was written using the neutral Latin words for the organs and action in question rather than fucking, cunt, piss, and shit. Alert feminists will also note that there is no entirely “dirty” English word for penis, every last one of them--prick, cock, dick, and so forth-- having quite acceptable other uses. What this may tell us about the political psychology of phallocratism, I leave to you, ladies.
The salient point being that “fuck,” “shit” “piss,” “cunt,” free-standing or as modifiers of such words as mother, eater, drinker, sucker, and so forth, became “dirty” because they were the words for the Latin “copulate,” “defecate,” “urinate,” and “vagina,” in the guttural Germanic of an Anglo-Saxon forerunner of modern English spoken by a conquered native population reduced to an economically subjugated lower class. Words denoting organs associated with both “dirty” and foul-smelling excretions and theologically proscribed acts and the acts themselves.
“Filthy peasant, I piss in your boots,” is the punchline of a not all that funny a joke about the pre-revolution Russian aristocracy and perhaps a haiku version of the cause of the revolution which overthrew it, for if the peasant were played by Arnold Schwartzenegger, the answer would no doubt have been “Fuck you, asshole!” as in the real world it eventually was.
You will note that the above paragraph works better than it would translated into any language other than English, Russian included.
Fuck, shit, piss, cunt.
Magic words of power, ironically and justly enough given that power by military, political, economic, cultural and linguistic subjugation, by sexual repression, by the very powers and forces that made them taboo, that censored them as “dirty,” whose every utterance is, whose very appearance in print, therefore becomes, an act of defiance and therefore of liberation.
Now ain’t that tough shit, motherfuckers!