Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mind Your Language, Part One

So I've been reading Julie and Julia: A Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, lately, and I have this whole gigantor list of things I want to say about it, but it's difficult to know where to start.  Also, I know that I'm going to tick somebody off, because not everything I have to say is positive.  (No, I haven't seen the movie yet.  Yes, I know I'm about three years behind everybody else in reading this thing, but - hey, I have a life, you  know.)

I'm going to come at this from an oblique angle and talk about one of the things that bugs me most about the book: the language.  It is, shall we say, Not Suitable For Public Consumption.  Bookworm asked if she could read it, and I had to say no.  (She's fourteen, and easily shocked.  I'll never forget the time I picked up The Godfather from my high school library, not knowing what my 16-year-old self was in for, and about six pages into the thing got slapped in the face with a raucous sex scene.  I nearly swallowed my tongue.  Not that Julie and Julia is that bad, but it does have some adult themes.)

And last night, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" was on TCM, so after the kids went to bed, The CEO and I watched the whole movie - straight through, no cuts, no commercial breaks, and definitely no editing-for-TV.  If you've ever seen the thing, you'll know that for the first five minutes or so, nobody says anything other than one swear word, over and over.  Charles (Hugh Grant) wakes up late for his friend's wedding, says, "BLEEP!"  Shows his housemate Scarlett what time it is, and she says, "BLEEP!"  And of course they've got that "the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get" thing going on, where hurrying just makes everything more difficult, so every few minutes something else goes wrong.  Formal clothes are a problem, BLEEP.  The car won't start, BLEEP.  They take the wrong turn, BLEEP. They get to the church just as the bride's car drives up, BLEEP.  Charles, the best man, has forgotten the rings, BLEEP.

As much as it embarrasses me to admit this, I find it hysterically funny.

If you've ever seen it on network TV, where it's been edited for language (and some adult content), the word dubbed in for the F-bomb used in the original is "bugger."  Yep.  Bugger.  A lot of Americans have no idea what that word is, other than it's something British people swear with and it's not considered offensive here.  In case you don't know what it means, I'll post a link and you can go check it out here.  Go ahead, I'll wait. 

Is that not worse than the F-word?  I thought so.  I still think it's bizarre that somehow "bugger" was an acceptable substitute to the FCC.

Back to Julie and Julia: it too is hysterically funny in parts.  I read a bit or two to the kids over the breakfast table, editing on the fly.  They laughed.  Really hard.  Which brings me to my point: if you do a Find and Replace with all the swear words in the book, and it's still funny, why did it need the swear words? 

If you do the same thing with "Four Weddings," it's not funny.  Your exercise is to imagine Charles' and Scarlett's dreadful morning with a different word expressing frustration.  I like "blast," for its plosive and sibilant consonants and quasi-British sound. Or Winnie-the-Pooh's favorite, "bother."  Try "dang," "darn," or "shoot."  Here goes:
              Charles, waking, sees his alarm clock.  "BLAST!"
              Scarlett is woken by Charles, and sees how late it is.  "BLAST!"
              Charles' suspenders won't cooperate.  "BLAST!"
See?  Not funny.  Okay, maybe the FCC was right.  "Bugger" is funny, and maybe nobody but me cares what it really means.

Julie Powell, at one point in the book, remarks that during her year of blogging about cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, some of her blog readers complained about the language she used.  Her comment:  "...Somebody I don't know from Adam takes the trouble to lament the fact that I use the word f**king so much; people who object to my choice of language always use a lot of asterisks."  Ms. Powell certainly doesn't use the asterisks.  Oh, no.  And she doesn't limit herself to the use of "f**king," either.  If you're interested, you can go and read her blog.  She began posting Aug. 25, 2002, and by the 29th, there's the first of the many swear words.

I will use the asterisks.  Call me hypocritical and prissy, call me a right-wingnut, I don't give a -- ahem, I mean, I don't care.  (Little blogger sarcasm there, please forgive me for that.)  My take on this is that if she feels free to display these offensive, or  potentially offensive, words buck naked on her stage, I can certainly feel free to give them some darn underwear on mine.  Plain white cotton, because it might be boring, but it won't scare your grandmother.

So why is it that the swear word in "Four Weddings..." makes the difference between Funny and Not Funny, but Julie and Julia is Funny, swear words or no?  My opinion is that spoken swear words seem spontaneous, and written words were chosen consciously.

Okay, okay, I acknowledge that "Four Weddings..." had to have had a written script.  Fine.  But they were going after real-life verisimilitude.  And never mind that for your mouth to shoot off an obscenity, you had at one point have had to learn said obscenity.  The book of James, chapter 3, says that the tongue is a fire, and that no one can tame the tongue (but that we should learn to control it!). 

It's a far different, and easier, thing to control the words that come from my keyboard.  I'm just sayin'.  I'll have more to say about Julie and Julia soon.

The image is from a German DVD version of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," from


Daisy said...

well, you are right on many counts....4 weddings is funny ...and I laughed when I saw the bugger version because I DID think it was worse! But I laughed at the original too. I've been behind on my reading but now I'm definitely picking up a copy of Julie and Julia. I don't generally use that variety of verbiage, but I think I can handle reading it....after all, I did grow up on a farm with 4 brothers---I think I've heard it all. :-)

Daisy said...

oh and I forgot to add that although I think Andie McDowell is one of the most gorgeous brunettes alive (yay, us brown haired girls score one!) she really can't act a lick. Hugh Grant, who is not nearly so pretty as he thinks he is has only one character he can play...but he does his one trick fairly well.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

IMHO the casual use of swear words is from pure laziness. They're used in place of nouns and adjectives because the speaker (or blog writer) can't be bothered to find an actual descriptive word. Also IMHO, a lifelong reading habit is a true vocabulary builder. Fewer people today are actual readers (of real books, not just emails and text messages) so they are not exposed to a large vocabulary; ergo, they fall back on these catch-all terms. No, you're not prissy or a wingnut, you just have standards for self-expression.

That said, I think the reason the "4 Weddings" opening scene is funny is that we have all been in that situation - late for an appointment, can't find what we need, car won't start, we get lost, etc. And yes, we've all used a few choice expletives in those situations to let off steam.

Mals86 said...

Daisy, J&J really IS funny, I think you'll enjoy it. And yes, Andie is flat gorgeous... I keep wondering what on earth Charles sees in Carrie, though - they chat, they bonk, they chat, they bonk, and that's all. He must have low standards. (One of my favorite lines: "You never rang me. You ruthlessly slept with me twice, and you never rang me.")

Hi, Patty! You're right about it being laziness - I'll admit that the occasional use of a swear word in print, *if chosen well*, doesn't bother me. But repeated use when unnecessary... that's just lame. We had a minister once who confessed to me that he occasionally, I quote, "let fly with a few verily, verilies." It amused me.

Rappleyea said...

I'm going to respectfully disagree with Daisy - it's Hugh Grant. Anything said with his posh British accent is going to be funny (or whatever he means it to be).

I really liked the movie - it was funny. Don't remember if there was swearing or not...