Language and Delivery

Posted on 19 March 2009

I come from a US background. In that country even the mildest obscenities in certain circles are looked down upon. I had to release any linguistic prudery when I decided to study for an English degree at university. Middle English authors in particular have quite saucy tongues. I also learned that many of the words we think of as obscene are in fact simply those that were used by the Anglo Saxon people. When the Normans took over England, their language was considered polite and that of the conquered people, the Anglo Saxons, was considered vulgar.

I am in line with George Carlin when he teased people who take certain words too seriously, as if their very sounds are a real threat to health and well-being. I have now lived in Australia for twenty years. This country swears at the
slightest provocation, but I don’t see people lying in the streets from obscenity inflicted mortal wounds. In fact much of the swearing is jovial: “F*ck mate, I love you!”

Unsurprisingly I don’t use much obscenity. Though I find in my comedy routines, if I drop the right swear word at just the right moment, coming from this sweet little thing, that I get a good surprise laugh. One fellow with whom I studied stand-up insisted I use loads of obscenity and lowest common denominator humour. He’s completely correct that at venues which involve much drinking and cater to drunken hens and bucks nights, you can’t do intelligent comedy. Rowdy pickled brains need cave-person humour. “Ug see dino, Ug sh*t self…hohoho.”

I remember feeling frustrated with being boxed into this style of humour. So, I wrote out the lowest, middle, and highest common denominator formulas.

Lowest:

* sh*t
* dope
* tits

Middle:

* poop
* beer
* the puppies

Highest:

* excrement
* Chardonnay
* mammary glands

You will note the shift to latinate (Norman) word choice in the last group.

Now for me the issue is really about intent expressed through delivery. A jovial Australian can swear a blue-streak and I am in no way offended. It’s clear they are being friendly and are including me by speaking freely. However, someone could call me a “broccoli” with all the intensity and venom of an insult and I would feel hurt. I do not enjoy mean-spiritedness regardless of the words used.

I feel the same way about comedy. I don’t mind the odd laugh at someone else’s expense, provided it’s done in a lighthearted manner. The instant it’s about cutting someone down in order to vent the most mean-spirited spleen, I’m outta there. The world is cynical enough at the moment.

I like humour that’s about helping people to cope, helping them to laugh at everything including themselves, and most importantly I like humour that brings some joy into people’s lives. Keep it light people.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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