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Movies And Their Profanity

K.D. Lightner

Call Me a Cab
Des Moines, IA
Just think: my mother's generation was shocked, when Clark Gable spoke, in GWTW, the most famous line in movie history, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a (expletive deleted)!" Tame word now, but my mother says it was quite shocking in her time.

Usually, people would get around it. When Brando, in One-Eyed Jacks, called some outlaw a "scum sucking pig," it was just as nasty as anyone could utter onscreen at the time.

I recall seeing, in my time, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, where most of the stage play language was intact. I was in the theatre, so was used to vulgar language onstage and back stage. However, until VW, I don't recall hearing it in the movies.

After that, it took off. Sometimes, it has to do with the characters and the locations: outlaws, mean streets, gangsters, hipsters, bad dudes, angry cops. It is harsher when women say the words, as, I think, people don't quite expect it. When Helen Mirren yelled the "F" word out at her staff, it was shocking, but tough, gritty, and true-to-life. When Bruce Willis uttered the same word (adding "me" to it) looking down a elevator shaft, it was funny.

When I saw the movie version of Glengarry, Glenn Ross, I thought, well yes, the language is rough (I swear every other word was the "F" word), but that is David Mamet for you, and that is the way these guys, under such pressure to sell, sell, sell, would talk. I would talk that way myself if I had to have a job like that. I have to concede the language bothered me because it was too much of one word.

As for the famous "F" word, I recall hearing or reading, that in word etymology, words took on vulgarity in relation to the class of people uttering them. Say a nasty word -- it is probably gutteral and is considered bad or dirty. If you say the Latin word for it, it is considered scholarly, medical or good language, say the French word for it, probably also decent language.

In early post-Norman conquest England, the upper class spoke French, the clergy and educated people spoke and read Latin, the lower classes spoke a Germanic gutteral language that became, over time, English.

It is true of non-dirty words, too. A courtesan sound romantic, a prostitute sounds clinical, a whore sounds really low-class.

So, class, culture and a whole lot of things go into what is, and isn't, considered profanity. I don't mind it in the movies if it is true-to-life or if used, even, for humor. I don't like anything over-used, including nasty language.

Mother remembers when her father reprimanded her for saying the word "Jazz," because, early in the last century, it meant the same as the infamous "F" word, but was also a growing musical form. The music won out. Now, hardly anyone is alive who thinks "jazz" is a dirty word.



Practically Family
Sausalito, California
Nick D said:
I think profanity is overused and has lost much of its shock value.

I think the same has happened to good, ole, sex. One of the great things about sex was that no one talked so nonchalantly about it as they do today. It was a private, intimate part of a person (and I like to keep it that way). The correlation between sex and the permissivness of cursing and cussing is evident. The more public you make it, the less meaning there is to it.
sticks and stones will break my bones . . . and words are words and people use them.

If film is going to pretend to portray reality (and I'm of the opinion that we should stop believing that golden era films do any such thing), it should include the language that the vast majority of people use.

Let's say you've just hit your hand with a hammer . . . or been shot in the stomach . . . how many of us here would say "oh, drat!". I thought not.

God dose 'o blasphemy 'n irreverence makes you feel alive!


Nick D

Call Me a Cab
Upper Michigan
When I was an undergrad I found myself cussing more than I realized. So I've tried to reduce the amount of swears I use, and I also do my best to use the word "like" correctly.

However, injury is an unavoidable fact of life in what I do, and hitting my hand with a hammer or getting a serious second or a third degree burn (which has only happened once, thankfully!) definitly elicits some "French" from me.

I think some of the best exclamations were uttered by Col. Sherman T. Potter of M*A*S*H. Buffalo bagels!!

dr greg

One Too Many

Hemingway's term for the most often-used swearword was 'the soldier's word', and as someone criticised by post-modern know-alls about the amount of swearing in my books set in WW2, I could only riposte that the actual veterans who read them say they all swore "like troopers" back then. As to the previous poster who thought taking the lord's name in vain was worse than swearing...I doubt the majority of the population would see it that way at all.


Vintage Land
I cannot stand cussing at all and especially taking the Lords name in vain.
I am amazed at the lack of self control of this generation. Getting most difficult to find anything decent to watch.
Truthfully I have 8 brothers and I understand people cuss but it was never done in front of a lady.
I am just really wondering how far will we go as a nation or people?
I am currently fuming about a new show maybe coming on in September on CBS called Kid Nation. Basically 40 sets of parents let 40 of their children be turned over to producers and dropped off in the New Mexico desert in a ghost town to fend for themselves for 40 days.
People gripe about sweat shops overseas and this is in the good ole USA to profit off of children.
Every last person involved should be charged with criminal activity. The Atty. General of the state is now looking into it. Good for him.
Some people love anarchy and since some of us don't we need to do what we can to help them knock it off!! :p


One Too Many
It used to be Detroit....
My simple opinion....

I don't see what all the fuss about cussing in film is about. Like the good Baron says, it's all about portraying reality (well, most of the time, really). Pretty much everybody uses expletives (even if it's only once in a blue moon), particularly the kind of people most filmmakers like so much. Why, even Porky Pig used a little salty language in a 1938 "outtake". (Those WB reels are hilarious)

K.D. Lightner

Call Me a Cab
Des Moines, IA
I am not offended by foul language that depicts sexual congress or bodily functions, unless it is over-used. I am an agnostic, so do not get offended by using a diety's name when swearing, I do so myself sometimes. But I can understand those who do believe and do not want the name of their deity used in vain.

What does bother me is using foul language to depict or stereotype a minority. To me, those words are hurtful and hateful to people of color, or certain persuasions, and are far more foul than using words that depict excrement or bodily functions or bizarre sex acts or whatever.

Once in awhile, in the movies, a character will use racial slurs or hate words towards a minority and, if it is in line with a character, that is OK, as long as the character who uses it is not considered to be the good guy.

Although sometimes the person using the racial slur is someone of that particular race. I still don't like it, but they have the right I suppose to say it, I don't. And won't. It makes my blood boil.



New in Town
Memphis, TN

Anyway, sorry for the politics. On to the actual subject at hand: (Apology accepted -Bartender)

Movies. You see, movies just aren't what they used to be, and they have seriously changed the American public. In the old days, movies portrayed the hero as the rough and tough kind of guy, that was always the best dressed, always the best spoken, always the toughest, or always the smartest. He was never a low life scum bag that drove around and shot innocents, or backed down from a fight because fighting is wrong. He did what was right, ALL the time. He stood up for what he believed in ALL THE TIME. And he ALWAYS, ALWAYS did it with style. Over time, movies began to drift more towards the rebel image. With the onset of the sixties, hippies began to be a rather large audience, so, movies with foul language and sex scenes began to filter in more and more. Now, we got it all over our screens, teaching modern youth that it's not okay to punch a bully in the mouth when he calls your mother a bad name, but it is okay to tell your mother to go F off because she wants you to stop smoking crack and sharing heroin needles. And stealing cars is cool, right kids? Especially if you deny it to the cops and don't man up for what you did, and then in the end get off the hook on a technicality. That's what real men do. That's how a hero does it.

Pardon my french, but to hell with all that. Integrity, people. Integrity. It's doing the right thing, even when nobody's looking. And for the right reasons.


One Too Many
Tinsel Town
It's all about context. The cussing in Goodfellas, for example, is right at home in that film. Gangsters are not exactly the gentlest of folk, so I have no problem with it used there.

Something that bugs me to this day, however, is use of the "S" word in Tim Burton's Batman. It was uttered by one of the muggers on the roof near the beginning of the film. Even though the film was rated PG-13, I just don't feel that word belongs near an iconic comic book character.


A-List Customer
Portland, OR
I have to agree with the vote of, "...Context!"

There are almost no circles I travel in, including my work industry, where profanities aren't ubiquitous. So much so that I: a) don't notice them in movies/tv(cable)/music, and b) feel slightly pandered to if profanity *isn't* used in a context where it clearly should be.

While I don't swear (that) much, I understand the use of it as a modern vernacular grammar and obvious evolution of modern language, and know that while there are many regions and circles where profanity isn't regularly used in the world, there are just as many where it is, and where it's in no way foreign or even noticeable.


One of the Regulars
Tulsa, OK
beaucaillou said:
There are almost no circles I travel in, including my work industry, where profanities aren't ubiquitous. So much so that I: a) don't notice them in movies/tv(cable)/music, and b) feel slightly pandered to if profanity *isn't* used in a context where it clearly should be.

That's exactly the goal of the present movie industry - to DESENSITIZE the public. Just as Madonna french kissed Britney Spears on the MTV awards, she said, the more you let people see it, the more they will want it, until they will finally accept it. The same goes for cussing and taking the Lord's name in vain. The more people hear it, the more casual it'd be until it becomes really nothing. *Snip* But if you woke up those people in the graveyard who passed away 50 yrs. ago, they'd be having an existential breakdown in shock to see what this generation has become.:eek:


Head Bartender
Staff member
Small Town Ohio, USA
When I was a small child in the 60's (not so different from the 40's in my area), there were adults who swore within my hearing and it was a surprise. There were others who didn't. There was a certain shock when one heard it (and later expressions of indignation from those who didn't believe it was appropriate), but such language was used.

George Washington could famously "cuss the paper off the wall." He had a raft of filth he used for effect when angry, and in the company of other men.

Theodore Roosevelt was famous for his ability to be absolutely insulting and naughty without using a single "swear word;" language he condemned in others.

I think it's a serious breach to swear in the presence of children, unless one is sparingly using somewhat colorful language to GET THEM MOVING ON A CHORE NOW! If it's rare, it gets wide-eyed results.
I think it is a foolish breach to swear around others, ladies or otherwise, unless and until it is established through general conversation that such language might be acceptable. Even then, tread lightly. It's better to not. It's good to be the person who is remembered (as many of you are doing here) "I never heard utter a curse word." I have not lived up to the standard as well as I'd like.

The swearing in Deadwood was overdone. It made me think the writers were fifteen and hadn't got past 4th grade. In the new AMC series "Madmen," it is sparse, and it works. I understand why it is used in scripts, but I still see it as the Easy Way Out for both writer and actor. To accomplish the same effect without resorting to colorful language -now THAT takes talent, skill, and a command of the language.



Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
Exactly what Scott said. I think it's unfortunate that those of us who just don't like the crassness of modern language are too often condemned as pecksniffs. My own views on language have nothing to do with any kind of moral high horse, and everything to do with just being completely sick of the constant unimaginative barrage of f-thisses and f-thats. The language is a wonderfully expressive tool even without obscenities -- why not explore it?

As far as movie use is concerned, well, I probably see more movies than anyone here, and I've yet to see a picture that I thought would have suffered by eliminating or at least ramping back on the gutter talk.

Kent Allard

New in Town
I've been looking into the occurrence of profanity in movies and believe I have found the first use of the f-bomb in a popular film.

It was in the 1970 film M*A*S*H and was spoken by John Schuck during the football sequence.

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