Note on My Father’s Language

(Please note that Sekhnet called the previous draft of this “nauseating” and urged me to do it, if I must, with a lot less sickening language and a lot more artfulness.  I’ve removed a couple of stray “f-words” and re-titled the fucking piece)

There was a television show my father used to like.  It aired toward the end of his life, I don’t remember the name of it, but it ran in an age when television writers were allowed to be more true-to-life, on a network that didn’t bleep words like “fuck” and “asshole” and “poop”.  

He loved the snappy dialogue and verbal violence of the show.  It was set in a brutal western town during the days after the Gold Rush, during the genocide of the Native Americans, the mass slaughter of the American Bison, the building of the transcontinental railroad that greased the wheels for the new Barons of the Gilded Age.

In this town, which may have been called Deadwood, brutal characters vied with anyone who wanted a piece of what they had fought to grab.  There was an evil-looking, dead-eyed character, perhaps the mayor of the town, with a head of thick, greasy black hair and a mouth like a maldita inodoro, as the Latinos say.  He’d sit at the bar and snarl at the people around him, all, apparently, fucking shit-assed cocksuckers of one kind or another.  

My father loved this guy, not only for his brutality, but for the over-the-top way he used his quick tongue as a filthy, razor-edged bullwhip.   I don’t think I ever saw more than a moment of the show, which I think only ran one season, but my father would tell me about it, chuckling.  He clearly loved the way these characters cussed at each other.  

My mother complained that she couldn’t stand the cursing.  “He loves it, every other word is ‘fuck’, ‘cocksucker’, ‘motherfucker,’ I can’t watch it,” said my mother in disgust, going into the other room to read as the characters cursed on the screen and my father smiled from ear to ear.  

I grew up in a household where curses were common, so my mother wasn’t squeamish about words, she just found the language in the show offensively excessive.  

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of cursing in the house, but it was within reason.  For example, I can say with perfect confidence that my little sister and I were never at any time referred to as ‘cocksucker’ or ‘motherfucker’ or anything inappropriate like that.   Rather, curses were sprinkled like salt on a wound, to make it sting and sink in, although not so much to cure anything, except in the sense that a dead animal’s flesh is “cured” for eating.  

If, for example, I was called a snarling rattlesnake if I said something mean to my sister, it was much better to swap in “fucking” for “snarling” and make me a “fucking rattlesnake.”  You see how that works?

It worked the same way for the vicious pricks in this fictitious town.  My father read to me from an interview with the creator of the show.  The guy said he had researched it and the over-the-top language was historically accurate.  It was a way of expressing violence, aggression and domination without resorting to guns.  It was a kind of safety valve, if you like, allowing angry men to blow off steam and express honest hatred of each other without coming to blows and killing each other, as was the code for most physical altercations on the frontier.  

A “filthy cocksucking varmint” could either retort in kind, and spit a plume of filthy tobacco juice after saying it, or reach for his gun.  If he went for the gun, people would die.  If he retorted that his interlocutor was a “slimy, ass-dicking, motherfucking polecat,” well… stand-off, you see.  They’d glare at each other, throw back their shots of cheap frontier whiskey and go on with their business.   My father liked that.  

Would I have preferred if my father had taken a swing at me, literally gone for his gun, pistol-whipped me every time he used a curse word to whip me with?  I’d have to take being called a fucking cobra, if those two things were the only choices.  

I hope this explains why a “senseless war” is often referred to in these pages as a “senseless fucking war” and being weary is sometimes “fucking weary” and like that.  It adds a flavor to the ms. that makes it more true-to-life than omitting a spice that is, admittedly, not to every taste, but which was ubiquitous in my father’s home cooking.  It’s just how the fucking guy was, liberal with the fucking f-word.  

The f-ing “n-word”, in any form, was not in his vocabulary, I must point out again.  That said, if he needed to say the word at all, as in quoting a racist legislator or Supreme Court justice, he would say “nigger” and not swap in the hideous, hypocritical fucking “n-word”.  

He may have often had a mouth like a maldita toilet bowl, but there was nothing immoral about it.

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