Seven Words

I have been traveling and recovering from traveling, so I haven’t posted anything in a while. I’ve had several things on my mind lately, so I should get back to regular posting, maybe two or three times a week, maybe even more for a while.

Today I will record my thoughts on the passing of George Carlin.

I have to confess, I’m probably the only one of my generation who never heard his famous monologue on “The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television.” Of course, like everyone else, I have heard of the famous seven words, and I’m sure at some time in my life I’ve heard them uttered.

I don’t watch a whole lot of television, but it seems that a few of the seven words must have slipped off the list in recent years. Maybe there are only two or three words left on the forbidden list. Meanwhile George Carlin is praised for “pushing the envelope,” for exposing hypocrisy, and for championing free speech. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts about profanity:

1. There are worse things. I acknowledge the existence of a hierarchy of vices. I recognize the hypocrisy of practicing a worse sin while railing against a lesser one. I think lying by political leaders is probably a worse abuse of speech than cussing by comedians.

2. Where’s the creativity? As Carlin acknowledged, there are 400,000 words in the English vocabulary. So what is creative about using the seven most common (the original meaning of ‘vulgar’) words. If you want to insult someone, look at Shakespeare’s example in King Lear–call him a “whoreson zed, an eater of broken meats”–that’s at least original; or it was when Shakespeare first wrote it.

3. Words have functions as well as “meanings.” The function of profanity is to shock or offend, not simply to refer to bodily functions or other things for which clinical terms and euphemisms exist.

4. Profanity desensitizes. Why do gangsters use such vile language? Human beings have a strong natural inhibition against killing. One must be trained in overcoming lesser inhibitions–such as the inhibition against using dirty words–before one can overcome the final inhibition. Those who still have a sense of reverence or respect do not make good killers.

5. Television was once a family medium. It’s true that cable and videos have complicated that. But network TV once went over the airwaves into everyone’s homes–and it made sense to provide some protection for children. I don’t know if it is progress that children are no longer protected against being desensitized at an early age.

But I still have a sense of humor. I will give George Carlin credit for saying some funny things and for making some incisive criticisms of hypocrisy.

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