Thursday, October 18, 2007

seriously, what the eff?

As a small and unassuming girl who swears both frequently and creatively, I am astonished by how often the people who hear me swear are astonished. I know several people who have said to me, with awe in their voices "I've never heard you swear before!" and who have then said the exact same thing to me a few weeks later. And again, later. They're rarely right, but something about my appearance leads to the impression that I'm far more mild-mannered than I am.

Reading Steven Pinker's excellent article about cursing, I couldn't help but wonder if the problem is simply a disconnect in their minds caused by the fact that I am not just clean and blonde and pretty, but also very good at performing my femininity. In other words: girls don't shit. But we do! And we piss and fuck and use the most remarkable language when we get cut off in traffic or stub our beautifully-shod toes. And as I read along, I felt sure that Mr. Pinker understood all of this. Until:

Men swear more, on average, and many taboo sexual terms are felt to be especially demeaning to women-- hence the old prohibition of swearing "in mixed company."

A sex difference in tolerance for sexual language may seem like a throwback to Victorian daintiness. But an unanticipated consequence of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s was a revived sense of offense at swearing, the linguistic companion to the campaign against pornography.

Apparently, we're all prudes: either Dworkinites or Victorian throwbacks. And in two relatively short paragraphs, he almost managed to ruin the whole article for me, relying on lazy (and nonsense) evolutionary psychology arguments about how women have so little to gain from sex and are thus uncomfortable with even discussing it. Nowhere else in the article does he fail to consider the ways in which social structures influence our usage and understanding of language, so the misstep here is puzzling.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

so, so many

A gift from my afternoon gmail inbox: it's not quite an infinity of poems, but it's damn close. I have a copy of the Oulipo Compendium, which he took this translation from, and there's something wonderful about leafing through it and using some agency in combining (composing? not quite)the lines, but this web version has a certain automatic charm of its own.

And of course, I'd love to own one of these. But that's not likely to happen any time soon.