The Ecphorizer

The New Obscenity
Miriam Eldridge

Issue #06 (February 1982)


WARNING: Every discussion of obscenity is bound to contain some. If this bothers you, please skip to the next article.

Classically, students of language have divided profanity, or taboo words, into three cateqories: obscenity (sex), scatology (elimination), and blasphemy (taking the Lord's name in vain). A lot of people have been able to relieve a lot of emotional pressure by indulging in one or more of these categories of linguistic expression. Increasingly, however, and for a variety of sociological reasons, these classes of words are losing their force and hence their cathartic value. When every four-year-old kid yells "Fuck you!", how can any hairy-chested grownup get any satisfaction from the same utterances?

[quoteleft'/>Why? There is scarcely any stigma or shame attached to sex any more; one can, and in fact is encouraged to, discuss it with perfect strangers. Elimination, on the other hand, is recognized as universal and unavoidable; we all know that there really is nobody who shits ice cream or whose farts don't stink, so why not talk about it? And, in this age of secularity and rationality, the concept of blasphemy has ceased to have any meaning.

Since these intimate human activities will soon no longer be useful as a source of tension-releasing taboo words, another one will have to be found to take their place. I submit that that activity will be the act of eating.

The bedroom and the bathroom, as t have noted, are increasingly becoming open places. The dining room, in the same proportion, is becoming a place of shame. As people become more and more preoccupied with thinness, and, with our increasingly sedentary, mechanized life, thinness becomes harder and harder to achieve, it becomes more and more disgraceful to be fat; i.e., to reveal that one is more or less a glutton. And "disgraceful" will soon escalate to "obscene."

Eating will become the popular perversion, and as it used to be with masturbation, people will begin to practice it only in private and deny that they ever do it at all.

Thus, "old farts" will become "old burps." The fellow you used to call an asshole you will now denounce as a bigmouth. "Shove it down your throat" will supplant "shove it up your ass." Instead of employing "fucking" as an all-purpose adjective, as in "it's no fucking use," we'll say "it's no eating use." ("Eat you" for "fuck you"? It's a possibility.)

"Go fuck yourself" may well become "Oh, go eat a hot fudge sundae." "Oh, shit!" will turn to "Oh, food!", and, in a curious reversal of euphemism, 'bullshit" will actually become "applesauce."

No longer will a man be denounced as a "prick" or a woman as a "cunt." Instead, he will probably become a carrot and she an onion. On the other hand, this is purely arbitrary. It is still hard to assign definite gender to vegetables.

It will no longer be permissible, in a family magazine, to dismiss a comic's routine as corny or denounce him as a ham. Movies will be rated X, R or PG on the basis of the presence or absence of questionable material ranging in seriousness from out-and-out banquet scenes to furtive glances of rutabaga.

'Buns," now mildly affectionate, as in "He has the cutest little buns," will become a sinister, downright nasty expletive. "Fathead," "meathead," and "turkey" will become REALLY dirty names to call people.

The advantage of all this, of course, is that food-related obscenities can never become attenuated through overuse - the vocabulary pool is simply too large. We'll never run out; any food name will do when one hits one's thumb with a hammer. Thus, instead of "What the fuck do you think you're doing?", we'll hear, e.g., "What the fried chicken (stuffed peppers, chateaubriand, veal Oscar, etc., etc., etc.) do you think you're doing?"

Ah, me. "Talk dirty," the lover whispers to his partner, who sighs in response, "Breakfast... lunch... DINNER!" and they achieve simultaneous orgasm. 

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Miriam Eldridge




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