Vowels and Vulgarity

28 Sep

One Day in Class…

A student raised his hand and said, “Hey Mr. Picone, why is that bitch in the front row so ugly?”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that on most days you just never see it coming.

I must warn you. Life in the public schools is not that easy…There is vulgarity there!

! I’ve never been to sea and I’ve never been a pirate but I’ve often heard that sailors and pirates are famous for their salty talk and off color language however, I have spent 50 years in the public schools and I can tell you that the vulgarity and profanity that can be found within our halls of education is a match for any profession legal or ill. And oddly enough in education it’s the kids who lead the way and blaze new pathways in obscenity not the adults. Adults have to watch what we say or it’s the highway for us. Some punk will rat us out to the administration and the next thing you know you’re being reprimanded for not setting a good enough example for the children. Good grief!

Every unutterable syllable of perverse, offensive and sexually explicit language that I’ve ever learned, I’ve learned in school from some classmate or student of mine. (well at least until the invention of HBO) I was never in the military nor did I work in construction so I will admit to leading somewhat of a sheltered life and I will also admit to being a little behind the curve when I was a student in high school as I often had no clue as to what other students or adults were talking about or referring to when they spoke about sex or used profanity. I had no idea what a douche bag was just that I didn’t want to be one and I thought that Pussy Galore was just a cute name for a girl that James Bond liked. Back in those days (when I was a kid) adults could use double entendre and innuendo to make inside adult jokes that were secretly shared between other worldly adults… and only the savviest and most corrupted children might be in on the secret, but naive kids like me still had no clue. Heck, I only just recently realized that Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke fame on TV was a prostitute who ran a whorehouse! How did I miss that? They called her Kitty which rather than just another cute nickname for Katherine was undoubtedly another inside joke that Ms. Galore would have clearly been in on.

Anyway, as I got older I picked up more carnal word play by listening more closely in the hallowed hallways of high school, college and beyond until suddenly in the late 70’s,  I found myself right back where I started; In high school again! Only this time there was a new generation in town and the walls of double entendre and innuendo had all but crumbled and disappeared. So much so that not many people even know what those two words mean anymore. And I was shocked to hear what I was hearing. The adults no longer owned profanity. The kids did! How did that happen???…I certainly know that teachers did not teach it in school, that’s for sure.  The Great Vowel Shift in the English language which changed the way we speak and pronounce and even spell words began sometime during the 14th century for reasons still not sure to linguists…but who or what was responsible for this great vulgarity shift in civilization that has changed the actual civility of our civilization? Any thoughts or guesses? Discuss! (nicely)

5 Responses to “Vowels and Vulgarity”

  1. Aldo Matteucci September 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Well, in the monastery school I was educated in 50 years ago the wh*** was de rigeur (except at High Mass on Sunday) or in front of befrocked teachers. I can only presume it was always that way…the walls reeked of it.
    And in any case this kind of sensibility historically is young: up to late in the XVIII century everyone spoke dirty, and making fun of the freaks and powerless was commonplace, in fact favorite entertainment. LRB – Vol. 34 No. 15 • 2 August 2012 »pages 17-18 .
    And don’t forget – “childhood” is a verys recent phenomenon. Do you think Jefferson’s black boys hammering out pounds of nails every day to fund the boss’ living style where prude about their language, or under the whip?
    (See October 2012 issue of The Smithsonian on J exploitation of child labor)

  2. m lewis redford September 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    this is not ostensibly about vulgarity or profanity, but is about the hyperbolic language used by kids these days in their ever-pervasive need to find distinction for their own identity amid an ever-spreading fog of personality-numbing consumption:


  3. michaellblackwell September 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    As banal as a suggestion as this might be, I think you hit the nail on the head with HBO,…the executives that ran the tv shows started putting less of a hidden message behind the words while they left their kids at home unattended, thus these, recently ordained cool kids with their parents in biz, (who doesn’t want to know someone in the ‘movie’ industry)…and furthermore could invite their sort of cool friends over when no one was there to watch them watch HBO and the like on at ShowTime. At 3am…they tell their younger sibling and it gets passed on.
    I wad I. Elementary school when I noticed this happening, I wasn’t at either party, or the younger sibling, but by the time I got to high ’99 I could readily see, and articulate this vulgarity. And the biz, doesn’t have to be HBO it could be any high paying 90hour a week job which somehow, surprising leaves marriages on the rocks…those who saw their parents fight a lot…make amueter film about ‘real’ things…and so on so forth…

    …it only takes 17years to take effect because who doesnt watchTV these days?!

    • michaellblackwell September 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      I was in* elementary school, and I meant to say high school in ’99 high, ’99 sorry I’m on my phone :-/

  4. missriete September 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    As far as I remember the language used in my high school period (the seventies) was quite shocking too. I agree, I live in the Netherlands and we’ve always been more blunt and outspoken than many other nationalities.
    I remember not knowing what they were talking about as I used to live a very sheltered Christian life.
    But a few years later I asked my brother for all the dirty jokes (he was a student at University at the time) to use while teaching … I had to, to stay on top of my twelve year old students.

    Now I don’t need that anymore but even the little kids (six and seven year olds) know and say things I wouldn’t want my kids to know and say.

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