August 20, 2019

In Praise of Political Expletives

“Like all schoolchildren in the 1990s, I was once a dedicated scholar of the Motion Picture Association of America and its ratings system. More specifically, I tried to learn everything I could about what bad words you could get away with using in a film of a certain rating. “Damn,” for example, was acceptable in a PG film like the first Star Wars. So was “s—” in limited quantities. “B—-” usually took things too far; “bastard” was all right generally. Mel Brooks somehow managed to sneak a single glorious “f—” into the PG-rated Spaceballs.

It was to these pre-adolescent researches that my mind returned when I saw a recent article in The New York Times detailing President Trump’s use of what Nabokov dismissed as “schoolboy words of four letters.” It would not have occurred to me that Trump’s profanity raised the eyebrows of anyone over the age of eight or younger than about 85. This is why I read our paper of record:

In a single speech on Friday alone, he managed to throw out a “hell,” an “ass” and a couple of “bullshits” for good measure. In the course of just one rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, earlier this month, he tossed out 10 “hells,” three “damns” and a “crap.” The audiences did not seem to mind. They cheered and whooped and applauded. [The New York Times]

“Hell”? Watch Sleeping Beauty sometime, my nine-year-old self would have told the paper’s correspondent. “Damn” is in Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network. Is “crap” even a swear word?”

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