Expat Living: "Profane expressions: fuggedaboudit"
Today's Korea Herald has my latest Expat Living column on language . . . which strikes me as odd, for it was supposed to have published my next-to-latest column. That other one would have been more appropriate, for it dealt with Ozark dialect, and I'm currently visiting family and friends in the Ozarks.
However, I must face profane reality, as does my column itself, so unless the use of explicit profanity offends you, go look for my column under Expat Living on the Korea Herald's buggy website with distracting popups -- or read it all here on Gypsy Scholar:
Thus runs my column this week. Tomorrow, back to my Ozark reports..."Profane expressions: fuggedaboudit"Although my old buddy Al Termini, who drove the Gutenberg Express between the Stanford and Berkeley libraries back in the 1980s, would litter his language with profane expressions like fuggedaboudit, I never expected to see a t-shirt with that word unabashedly emblazoned across its front, but the cursed thing is available at Amazon.com, which at least admits that this is an "Adult T-Shirt." Despite its adult status, however, anyone can access the site and order that shirt!
I hate to speak ill of the dead, but I blame Norman Mailer for initially popularizing the basest form of this word in his World War II novel, "The Naked and the Dead." Here is a typical instance of a character wantonly mouthing this term:
"Minetta was becoming irritated. It was impossible ever to win an argument with Pollack. "Aaah, fug you," he said (60).
Could this word possibly be more crudely spelled out? Mailer's trashy novel should have been banned 60 years ago, but that ship has long sailed and returned with cargo.
Some of that cargo has recently gotten unloaded in John Green's teenybopper novel, "An Abundance of Katherines," which not only incessantly uses the word but even depicts its 19-year-old main character openly hailing Mailer's book:
"(I)t's 872 pages, and it uses the word fug or fugging or fugger or whatever about 37,000 times. Every other word is a fug, pretty much" (120).
In homage to Mailer, this character and his best friend adopt the vulgar term for their own use. Shocking, yes, but not nearly so astounding as the fact that Green's book placed as a finalist for the Michael L. Printz Award in literary excellence!
Literary? A word like that, literary? Why, the word itself is a gross misspelling, as the renowned stage actress Tallulah Bankhead acidly observed upon first meeting Mailer: "So you're the young man who doesn't know how to spell."
Mailer's crude misspelling has spread even beyond the literary world and into popular culture, where it has undoubtedly wreaked even more harm by piercing the virgin ears of any who have ever heard of that rock band whose name was coined in 1965 by the band's cofounder Tuli Kupferberg as homage to Mailer's illiteracy: The Fugs.
Now, many may think me alarmist, but consider the long-term effect of Mailer's illiterate vulgarism. Language already suffers from a deleterious tendency toward semantic drift, and I see no good reason to encourage this vagabond neglect of proper English, so I've written a poem, "Semantic Drift," to warn against Mailer's misuse of our fine English language and to graphically protest his unorthographic influence:
"Wood" now no longer sounds crazy,
While "stout" only scarcely seems strong;
"Foul" connotes nothing of lazy,
And "sin" suggests nothing much wrong.
Words molt old meanings like feathers,
Make speaking a spiel of dumb luck,
Bring us all to the ends of our tethers
Leave us all without giving a f**.
This is my protest. I utterly refuse to use Mailer's three-letter word. Fuggedaboudit.
Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com -- Ed.