Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sometimes A Crude Word Is The Right Word

A few days ago I got two comments on an older article that I wrote. Normally any comment about an older article indicates Comment Spam. The two comments I received on the older article were exactly the same and from the same person, which is usually a bad sign, however when I get a Blogger notification on something like that I at least read the notification before I delete the comment as Spam. But then I read the comment.

It came from a woman with the username Cindybin (and since I’m using her comment I think it’s only fair that I link to her site) and here’s what she had to say about the title of my Dick van Dyke Show Blogathon entry, In Praise Of Laura Petrie’s Ass:
It is terrible you used the a-word in the title of your article! how crude and offensive. I won't even read it now. And what gets me is that people are PRAISING you?? They don't even chastise you for using this crude language

Now normally I’d run the comment and because it is an older article no one would acknowledge its existence. But it’s been a bit quiet around here; my current Flash game obsession is getting a little stale, and I finally got that pesky leaky tub faucet in my bathroom fixed, so I was in the right place to take on something. And the topic of crude language is one I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I will grant that “the a-word” is a crude term, though I hesitate to say that it is an offensive one to the bulk of my readers. “Ass” has certainly ceased to be regarded as offensive by TV writers and producers, and indeed TV censors. The word is used in both contexts; as a reference to a person’s buttocks and as a contraction of the word that you can’t use on TV, which is created with the addition of the word “hole.” Oh yes, and as a contraction of Jackass, although that has nothing to do with what we're discussing.

Here’s the thing though. In this case “ass” is the right word to use, and probably the only appropriate one. I am writing an article on the (apparently unintended) sexual attractiveness of a TV character – and I make it clear in the article that Cindybin refused to read that I don’t feel the same way about the actress who played the character. The key to Laura Petrie’s sexual attractiveness was Mary Tyler Moore’s body shape, which I describe as a dancer’s body, lean and tautly muscular. Her body shape was emphasised by the snugly fitted clothing she wore, and in particular the Capri Pants that became her trademark in the role, as well as the dancer’s tights she occasionally wore when the character was dancing “professionally.” And guess what part of the body those clothes emphasized.

Yes, to be sure there are words that could have been used instead of “ass;” buttocks, butt, bum, booty, tush, fanny (though that one can get you into trouble in Britain; its a slang term for a woman’s vulva). They’re all “good” words (well I’m actually not that fond of “booty” but that’s just me) but they just don’t carry the same sort of sexual connotation that “ass” does. And since my post was about what I find to be sexually attractive about Laura Petrie – something that I was also emphasizing by deliberately adapting the title of Stephen Vizincey’s novel In Praise of Older Women for what I think should be fairly obvious reasons given what I was writing – a word with sexual connotations is the right word.

Words have value. It’s something that Robert Heinlein pointed out in his short novel If This Goes On---. The character Zeb Jones is working on using language in a way that will inflame people to revolt. He gives an example to the lead character, John Lyle (about Lyle’s paternity) that has Lyle ready to throttle his friend even though it is entirely accurate. It’s literally not just what you say, it’s the way that you say it. In this case the word “ass” has the right value for what I wanted to say. It’s the right word because it is vaguely crude without being truly indecent. I stand by my quite deliberate choice of that word and wouldn’t change it to satisfy anyone even if I could.

Update: Cindybin has responded:
Oh it figures. Instead of feeling guilty and embarrassed that you used crude language, you write a BLOG about it and make me out to be the one in the wrong, and then you say that you wouldn't even change a word of it. This only makes me angrier and more determined to speak up. I plan to write a ton of blogs about how people use profanity online. 

Right. First of all, I don`t think that I made her out to be the one in the wrong, except maybe for the part where I mentioned "the article that she refused to read." I feel that I defended my position on why I used the word I did. I stand by that defense. I would have been happy if Cindybin had offered a well thought out defense of her position that would have been the basis for a debate. She didn't. Instead she sent me something that was the equivalent of "you didn't repent; I intend to speak out against you and your kind."

Let me just reiterate. I chose the word I used quite deliberately because I felt and still feel that it was the best word to express what I wanted to put across. I did not use it off-handedly or gratuitously. Therefore I do not have any feelings of guilt or embarrassment over using it. I didn't even use it to shock; titilate maybe but not to shock or provoke in the way that a site like the Parents Television Council routinely does. And if that provokes Cindybin to write "a ton of blogs about how people use profanity online," well that's fine. I'll defend to the death her right to do so. Just don't expect me to agree or publicize it.

With that I am finished responding to Cindybin publicly.


Roger Owen Green said...

Hmm. Your usage didn't bother me. 'Booty' would have, because it would been both anachronistic and more sexual than I think you intended.
I wouldn't have written it myself, though, because I'm more linguistically prudish.

Roger Owen Green said...

I checked out CindyBin's blog and found this piece about Rob and Laura smoking. CindyBin is anti-smoking (her father smoked), anti-alcohol, but pro-dolls (BIG time), and pro-the Dick van Dyke Show

Anonymous said...

Oh it figures. Instead of feeling guilty and embarrassed that you used crude language, you write a BLOG about it and make me out to be the one in the wrong, and then you say that you wouldn't even change a word of it. This only makes me angrier and more determined to speak up. I plan to write a ton of blogs about how people use profanity online.

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm trying to understand Cindybin's further point here. She expressed her objection to your language (fair game), you replied that you had a different POV (and, it is obvious, YOUR blog, which generally does NOT use foul language).

I don't see you putting her in the wrong; indeed, my reading is that she wants YOU to correct your "error," which you choose not to do. And it's a great blogging tradition to write about interesting comments to one's blog.

I had two great posts over a post-9/11 Royal Guardsman song, in which Snoopy kills bin Laden (I think), and an interesting debate with a member of the band ensued.

Ben said...

I'm not sure I get the offense here. In a newspaper column I can see how making a headline about Laura Petrie's A-S-S might be inappropriate, because there's a certain decorum implied. But this is Brent's personal blog. People who register a blog have a right to say what they want on it, including this very mild profanity. There are so many blogs and websites it's easy enough to avoid one you don't like.