Sunday, October 23, 2005

The dirt in words

Two weeks ago, with some time on my hands, I sat down to watch an old movie. "Glengary Glen Ross" is an award winning movie made in 1992. It had a stellar cast of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey, amongst others. Adapted from a stage play, this movie has riveting dialogue and a whodunnit. Absolutely seat-of-the-pants.

What lingered most in my mind was how the part played by Alec Baldwin rallied his team of salesman. In that 10-minute scene, I have never heard that much foul language used - ever. What's more, it came from just one person - Blake (played by Baldwin) - who was basically conducting a monologue. The f**k word was used so often, and with some many different layers of meaning and usage that I am dumbstruck by the versatility of this one word. I doubt that that scene can ever be censored because the word is so integral to the entire 10 minute performance.

Foul language, whether we like it or not, is part of our everyday speech. So much so that Ruth Wajnryb has written a book, "Language most foul" about the use of this register, or language instance, in the world today. This book is not for those who cannot stand the sight of foul words (I am not sure about the audio/sound or vocal part) - the work f**k appears in the book with such regularity and frequency that the book would have been labelled profane and dirty if that is the sole measure of the book. It would never pass muster on the list of desirable books and blogger will surely have it flagged.

But before you jump to any conclusion, the book is actually a scholarly (yes, you didn't read that wrongly) tome on foul language. In it, Wajnryb surveys a lists of commonly used foul words such as the evergreen f**k and sh*t, amongst others, and spends considerable effort in tracing their origins and describing their usage over time. Wajnryb makes the point that, because of how frequently they are used today for virtually every part of life that these words have lost their foulness in certain contexts. So, for example, f**k is used as part of the integrated adjective "inf**kingcredible" to add emphasis rather than profanity to the word "incredible". Nevertheless, such words continue to be used in contexts that are offensive to some, if not all, people.

If you think you are up to the language, its a good read. But make sure you don't leave the book lying around for your young son or daughter to pick up. Otherwise, you may end up in hot soup with your wife/husband/mother/father, whichever it is.

Brace yourself for the book with the most foul language I have ever come across. It puts many of the most 'dirty' books to shame.

Availability Note: Unusually, this book is not listed in The closest title (by the same author) is "Expletive Deleted : A Good Look at Bad Language". From Amazon's review of this book, I would say that it is the American imprint of this Australian author's original book. This original is available online at Dymocks Booksellers.


Anonymous said...

personally i like Alec Baldwin( See his filmography at Most Wanted Movies.

Epilogos said...

Alec Baldwin gave a masterful performance as Blake in Glengary Glenross, in spite of the fact that he only appeared in one scene - his ten-minute monologue filled with the f**k word.