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One of my favorite scenes in “Doc Hollywood” is when Dr. Benjamin Stone (Michael J. Fox) gets frustrated and used the f-word. The deputy says, “Watch your language, Doc! You’re in the buckle of the Bible belt here. Try saying fudge or something.”
Stone replies, “Fiddlesticks too strong?”
Now, what does define a word as being “too strong” of a curse? If you stub your toe in Mississippi and scream “Fudge!” would anyone within earshot not know what you’re really saying?
If you say one thing and mean another, you really just outsourcing the vulgarity. Like yelling “Sugar!” when you’re late for work and as you are getting into your car, you see that you have a flat tire.
People use “sugar” as a term of endearment to their sweetheart. So how do you really know what your honey is saying to you when he calls you that?
Holy fudge! Can you believe that sugar? What a dagnabbit snickerdoodle!
Let’s face it, profanity is engrained in our culture. That’s a really sugary thought when you think about it.
Euphemisms aside, one of the worst offenders of potty-mouth syndrome is the movie industry. Even films geared towards children contain “a little vulgarity.”
For example, in the “animated musical comedy” South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the “fudge” word is used 146 times.
When asked which movie has the highest fudge-density, many people think of Al Pacino in “Scarface.” With 207 fudge-ewe’s uttered, the dialogue is dripped with vulgarity at an average of 1.21 “fudges per minute.”
But Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” howls an impressive 3.16 “fudges per minute,” a total of 569!
Vulgarity in movies is, of course, nothing new. In 1939, there were riots in the streets and cities burning when Clark Gable cursed a blue streak in “Gone with the Wind.” Well, maybe not quite that bad, but using the word “damn” did in fact shock audiences.
Less well known is that audiences were even more shocked when, in one scene, Gable unbuttoned his shirt and revealed that he was not wearing an undershirt! Taking his cue, men stopped wearing undershirts and within a year undershirt sales plummeted 75 percent.
Earlier than that, Howard Hughes’ production of “Hell’s Angels” had pilots cursing at each other. In one scene, an American pilots yells at a German pilot, “Son of a Bosch!”
You have to wonder why calling someone the offspring of a power tool was considered vulgar.
But American ingenuity is always there to address issues like this. Hollywood has turned to tropology, the art of using words outside their literal sense to imply another meaning.
Meaning they allow characters to curse without using the more popular curse words.
A good example was the TV show, “Mork and Mindy,” on which Robin Williams would yell “Shazbot!” when he bumped his head. Swearing in planet Ork language is perfectly acceptable in polite society.
In comics, a character will sometimes go off with a diatribe of cursing, replaced by squiggles and symbols to represent a string of curse words. These are called grawlix, nittles and quimps. Even coloring books for young children have characters yelling out nittles.
Of course, writing “What the @#$&!* ?” is a lot easier than yelling it. Ampersand pound sign dollar … oh, candy confection that monosaccharide!
Another strategy is to make up words and let you use your imagination. Movies about alien planets are rich in scatological tropes.
Smeg, Frell, Dren, Mik’ta, Felgercarb, Drokk. These are all great words to use at work, unless of course your boss happens to be a “Farscape” and “Battlestar Galactica” fan.
In the movie “When the Earth Stood Still,” did Helen know that saying “Klaatu barada nikto” to the robot Gort was the third most offensive statement in the Milky Way Galaxy?
Maybe a better strategy is to use real curse words, but in languages that elude most everyone’s vernacular. Not many people would get upset if you insulted their mother’s mating habits in Botocudoan (of the South American Aimore tribe, with fewer than a dozen people that still speak the language).
Just don’t say it in Brazil!