More About Words: Why Can’t I Say “Jackass”?

The flip side of toxifying perfectly useful words through willful, imbecilic misinterpretation (about which I wrote last time) is surrendering words to the trash bin because they have acquired “naughty” meanings.  The former happens when certain groups desperately trying to keep all their wounds and sore festering for political advantage seize upon anything that has even the echo of a possible slur.  The latter happens when people priding themselves upon their home-cooked, family-values decency rush to blackball (excuse me… how about “banball”?) anything with a faintly scurrilous echo in order to advertise their devotion to the true faith.

“Ass” can no longer be used among them, for instance.  In the Christmas carol, “The Little Drummer Boy”, the line, “The ox and ass kept time,” had to be rewritten, “The ox and lamb kept time.”  How inane!  The Latin word asellus refers to an equid similar to a donkey.  The Old English word “arse”, which appears in Ancient Greek as ouros (e.g., the star Arcturus or arktou ouros, “the Bear’s tail”), has no Latin cognate that I know of.  An ass is an ass–you know, a jackass.  Now, if you choose to associate the word in you dirty-clean little mind of would-be Puritan censorship, you can certainly strike it from your lexicon in a show of superior virtue… but where does your show end?  Any Middle School teacher knows that we would soon be reduced to speechlessness if we nobly abstained from every syllable that has a whiff of scatology or lewdness.  Girls named “Regina” must change their names.  Football players may no longer be said to “punt” the ball.  A threaded nail may no longer be called a screw–and, for that matter, I believe the word “nail” used to have a sordid underbelly in certain company.

Lately the word “pussy” is showing up on the virtue-radar as a seek-and-destroy target.  So the old James Bond movie Octopussy must be re-christened Octokitty; and, as a Bond-aficionado friend of mine points out, Pussy Galore of Goldfinger must also have a name change–not to mention the possibly tawdry suggestion in the use of “finger”.  Better ban that one categorically, just to be safe.  In our revised world, then, the lovely Honor Duskyperson will star as Meow-meow Galore in Golddigit.. but, no, Meow-meow sounds like Mau Mau, and we might be heading into racist territory.

What do such people imagine themselves to be safeguarding?  To me, they’re revealing that they know a lot more smut-talk than any legitimate saint should ever have heard.  Of course, the real point is that being aware of nasty double-entendres has nothing whatever to do with virtue.  It’s not the use of any certain word that defiles you: it’s the thoughts with which you accompany that word.  The same applies for “good” words associated perversely with base thoughts.  Some of my generation have employed (and continue to employ) the word “love” in such dubious circumstances that I now try to save it for very special occasions, just to avoid all possible misunderstanding.  This doesn’t amount to giving up on “love”.  It’s just recognizing that a variety of other options like “concupiscence” also occupy the dictionary.

On the other hand, letting someone deprive you of a perfectly functional word because that person has decided to confer a squalid sense upon it is essentially surrendering the mastery of your thoughts to parties who do very little thinking.  It’s servile, and it disgusts me.  What kind of virtue-lite exhibitionist engages in such jack**s antics?

Author: nilnoviblog

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Latin/Greek) but have not navigated academe very successfully for the past thirty years. This is owed partly to my non-PC place of origin (Texas), but probably more to my conviction--along with the ancients--that human nature is immutable, and my further conviction--along with Stoics and true Christians-- that we have a natural calling to surmount our nature. Or maybe I just don't play office politics well. I'm much looking forward to impending retirement, when I can tend to my orchards and perhaps market the secrets of Dead Ball hitting that I've excavated. No, there's nothing new (nil novi) under the sun... but what a huge amount has been forgotten, in baseball and elsewhere!

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