Was reading Bill Bryson’s very entertaining and informative book about the English language, The Mother Tongue, last night. He made a point that, to my knowledge, had only ever been addressed once before, and that time by George Carlin.
The point? For many decades — in fact, stretching into centuries — American English was the only language in which it was a common practice for the speaker to advise a person at whom s/he was angry or dismissive or contemptuous to engage in the supreme human pleasure. Or, as Mark Twain wrote, the recreation humankind has placed “far and away above all other joys.”
In other words, no other language boasted anything analogous to Fuck you.
How weird that is, Bryson rightly observed. It’d be like saying to someone, in lieu of bopping them one in the snoot, “Have a nice day!” or “Make a lot of money!”
Back in the ’70s, Carlin quipped: “I mean if we’re trying to be mean, we really should say ‘unfuck you!'”
Or, as Germaine Greer once stated, throwing in an added wrinkle: “They still say ‘fuck you’ as a venomous insult; they still find ‘cunt’ the most degrading epithet outside the dictionary.”
Of course, now that American English has become the global language, pretty much every language has embraced the Americanism as its own.
In any case, this little bit of info illustrates our holy land’s almighty bizarre attitude toward sex. We live in a nation where breasts are commodified on a par with gold or uranium. Grinding and twerking are essential elements in our popular arts. Young women are taught their basic value as humans is all wrapped up in how comely, sexually, they are. Young men are winked at when it’s learned they have conquered so many dozen young maidens. Men of power use sex to control women — and sometimes other men — in asymmetrical relationships. Old goat politicians are excused for their obsessions with underaged girls.
Yet women who wish to use birth control or must occasional abort unwanted fetuses are pilloried by huge swathes of the populace.
In other words, we Americans are almightily fucked up.
A little bit more on Twain. He was as baffled by our sexual mores and attitudes back in the 19th Century as I am today. Here are a few trenchant lines from his typewriter:
- …[T]he human being…. natually places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys — yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything — even his queer heaven itself — to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax. From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined, yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place.
- From the time a woman is seven years old till she dies of old age, she is ready for action, and competent. As competent as the candlestick to receive the candle. But man is only briefly competent:… After fifty his performance is of poor quality; the intervals between are wide, and its satisfactions of no great quality to either party; whereas his great-grandmother is as good as new.
- When Adam ate the apple in the Garden and learned how to multiply and replenish, the other animals learned the Art, too, by watching Adam. It was cunning of them, it was neat; for they got all that was worth having out of the apple without tasting it and afflicting themselves with the disastrous Moral Sense, the parent of all the immoralities.
And — wouldn’t you know it — just as I’m finishing up today’s post, I come upon Neil Steinberg’s latest column. Danged if he isn’t thinking about men, women, and sex as well! Here’s his opening argument, picking up as well on Greer’s wrinkle:
Religion fancies itself as manifesting the word of God….
However, a skeptical person — me for instance — gathering together all doctrines, could be forgiven for viewing orthodox religion as something else: an elaborate system to dominate women.
Women get the short end of the stick in every major faith. The Judeo-Christian tradition certainly stumbles out of the blocks. No sooner is Eve crafted from Adam’s rib — to give him a lackey, remember — than she gets mankind booted from the Garden of Eden, earning her painful childbirth and divinely ordained second-class citizenship forever (“And he shall rule over thee”). The starting gun to an endless series of indignities commencing with Genesis and rolling right up to Louis C.K.
I won’t take the time to outline the degradations served up by Islam, except to note that when Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive — in 2017 — it was considered a breakthrough. For all its spirituality, in Buddhism enlightenment is seen as something that doesn’t happen to women.
Is it any wonder I’m a non-believer?