Letter bombs.

Moments in the life of Mother of the Year:

I rode my bike down to the park to summon home Kate and a friend, who were playing there. When I found them they were crawling around in some bushes, trying to find her friend’s hat. The hat had been snatched, and hidden somewhere in the park, by a boy who lurks there and regularly gives them trouble. This was the second incident in a month, and I let fly with my opinion that this boy is “a nasty little shithead.” Well, it cheered them up, anyway. Where before they’d been near tears, now they were thrilled that they’d heard an adult — not only an adult, but a mother — use a bad word, and about someone they knew.

I’m sure it was all over the park in two minutes flat.

Mostly, I try not to swear around my kid. There will be time for her to discover the poetry of profanity, but that time isn’t now. What I try to do instead is use my entire vocabulary; if I’d been faster on my feet, that boy would have been “overcompensating thug-boy.” I also try not to be coy. I hate the way we think “fuck” is enough to cause fainting, but “f- – -” is A-OK. Some years ago one of my colleagues wrote a story about a dust-up at a high-school newspaper, which featured students quoted accurately using profanity. The stock phrase of description editors settled on was not “the students used a variety of obscenities,” but “the students used the f-word, the s-word, the a-word and several variations.” Something like that, anyway. It was so silly.

Needless to say, we never, ever used the word “nigger.” It was either “the racial slur known as the n-word” or “n- – – – -,” but the word itself was radioactive. A suspect in a racially motivated murder was arraigned, and the story pointed out that the man had several tattoos that suggested he would make no African-American friends in prison, so his lawyer asked for protective custody. Were it up to me, I’d have written, “The suspect has prominent tattoos featuring racial slurs,” but the AP went with “the suspect has a tattoo that reads, ‘Die, n- – – – -, die.'” When I first read this, I thought for half a second that he’d gotten a tattoo with dashes in it.

You see what I’m saying? Say it or don’t say it. But don’t pussyfoot around. The dashes don’t make it any less offensive. It’s just so much fan-fluttering.

After this, our editor, who was gay, promoted “faggot” and “queer” to dashed-out status, on the grounds they were the gay version of the ultimate racial slur. I truly mourned these, and not because I heard them so often coming out of the mouths of gay people. I just like language, all language, and the more, the better. Gay people have so many amusing euphemisms for homosexuality, I feared we were sliding down the slope toward incoherence, with such great terms as “nelly queen,” “Miss Thing” and my favorite — “nancyboy” — banished to the twilight of dashes.

You know where this is heading, don’t you? The NAACP is meeting in Detroit this week, and yesterday they “buried the n-word.”

Good luck with that. I’m sympathetic, but pessimistic. Also, cynical — I await the day, surely arriving any minute now, when someone says “nigga” is an entirely different word, and hence OK. I actually agree; if anyone can’t tell the difference between one black kid telling another “you’re my nigga” and a white racist saying the same thing in, eh, a different tone of voice, they probably haven’t read this far. Language is paint. You can apply it with a fine brush, a wide one, a spray can or a bucket, but the art is in the execution.

Interesting note: The Free Press marked this occasion with several stories, two editorials, a cartoon and letters to the editor about the issue. But they didn’t allow online comments on the original story yesterday. Now that would be an interesting thing to read an editor’s column about. I’m not holding my breath.

Not to change the subject too abruptly, but guess who’s coming to Detroit in September, and for whom will I shove aside all comers in my quest for tickets when they go on sale Friday? George Clinton, that’s who. Now two weeks away from his sixty-funkin’-seventh birthday, it sounds like George is sometimes baffled by kids today, and their filthy mouths, too:

Though he’s popular with rappers, Clinton says he doesn’t completely understand the hip-hop culture. “I can’t get used to [rappers] saying the things they say to girls and then expecting them to make love to that,” he laughs. “One guy was cursing this one girl out and I said, ‘Man, don’t talk like that to that girl,’ and she said, ‘Oh, here comes Captain Save-a-Ho.’”

By the way, if you want to know why Clinton is still important today, here’s a clue:

“We do it different all the time,” he says. “People want to hear the same songs they know, and at the same time they want something different. You have to be conscious of that. They say they’re nostalgic for that old music. I don’t want to be nostalgic,” he pauses. “I want to see what’s next.”

“I want to see what’s next.” I’ve known people who have been looking backward since they were 30 years old.

So, bloggage:

How the Chinese deal with corruption widely known to be deep, broad and systemic: They execute the head of their FDA equivalent. Well, that’ll surely take care of the problem, don’t you think? Everybody back to work!

Do you read the Comics Curmudgeon? If not, you should.

That’s all for this morning, the last (so we’re told) in the heat wave. And Mercury is no longer retrograde. Let’s all start new projects.

UPDATE: Undercover Black Man has your Giant Negro Roundup, for those you who follow such things. As I know UBM is a sometime writer for “The Wire,” I wonder if he shares any responsibility for one of the better lines from a recent season: After the shooting of Stringer Bell, one homicide detective asks another if they have a suspect description. “BNBG,” the second one says. “Big negro, big gun.”

Posted at 9:49 am in Current events, Media, Popculch |

26 responses to “Letter bombs.”

  1. Danny said on July 10, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Nance, you reminded me of Rebecca De Mornay’s character in “Hand that Rocks the Cradle.” Assuming you saw it, remember the scene where she goes up to the kid who was bullying the little girl?

    I got a message for you, Roth! LEAVE EMMA ALONE! Look at me – if you don’t, I’m gonna rip your fucking head off!

    All the kids loved that!

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  2. Josh said on July 10, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Hey, thanks for the link to my site … glad you like it!

    I just wanted to chime in and say that I actually was just having a conversation with a radio guy about profanity bleepouts the other day. You might recall the Nine Inch Nails song from the mid-90s whose chorus (on the radio) prominently featured the line “I want to f-ck you like an animal.” And I use those dashes advisedly, because the blank-out literally only covered the vowel sound — you could still hear the “f” at the beginning and the “k” at the end. I just thought it was simultaneously hilarious and sad. EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT THE WORD IS. What on earth are you protecting us from?

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  3. LA mary said on July 10, 2007 at 10:34 am

    The thirteen year old son and I witnessed a scene in the Trader Joe’s parking lot last Friday that inspired similar language. A guy drove through the small parking lot much too fast, nearly hitting a woman. She was no ticked, and rapped on his car with her knuckle, and told him to slow down. He stopped, got out and really seemed to be on the verge of a fist fight with this woman. Everyone else in the parking lot stopped to watch, some of us moving a little forward in case this guy took a swing at her, which looked likely. He kept yelling at her, saying she had to pay for any damage to his car (there was none, clearly) and that he would drive however he wanted to drive. She was being fairly calm, telling him to cool off before he hurt someone. The guy was not backing down until three guys hustled him back to his car, and he zoomed away. My son was pretty shocked by this, not having witnessed a middle aged, affluent looking guy go ballistic before. I told him stuff like that happens, that there are fuckheads everywhere, even in South Pasadena. Needless to say, he loved it that I said fuckhead.

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  4. brian stouder said on July 10, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Well, more generally on language – I just finished an e-mail response to a customer in the UK, and she had made reference to Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone this past weekend, mentioning that it was a pity thay he didn’t win there for the British fans (he finished 3rd; in the 9 races of his rookie season he has two wins and has yet to do worse than third – a phenominally good start!) .

    I wrote that if he HAD won, the place would have exploded!! and then I edited that, times being what they are (especially in the UK) and similarly removed references to his ‘blazing’ start (opting for ‘superb’ instead).

    It is all too easy to be thoughtless with language; and the more effort you put into it, the more aware you become that you are screwing things up! (sorta like not knowing when to stop)

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  5. LA mary said on July 10, 2007 at 11:04 am

    The Comics Curmudgeon will eat far too much of my time. Why did you share that link.

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  6. Hieronymus said on July 10, 2007 at 11:24 am

    We had a recent experience here along those lines. My daughters (6 & 7) really aren’t exposed to that language (although plenty of mothers don’t seem to even notice when they are using it on the playground!) so my youngest was easily convinced to say ‘fuck’ out loud in class. She truly had no idea what the word was. Well, the proverbial shit hit the fan, both in school and at home, and my wife wrote a long note saying if A said the f-word, then other folks should be watched too. The whole class got a warning and a stern talking to from the principle.

    Even funnier though was trying to talk about it at the dinner table. After we danced around the word a bit, she asked what was the word and the youngest said it. My seven year old turned to me and said “Fuck? What does that mean?” Oh man, it was almost all I could do to stop from spitting up my food!

    But giving the f-word to my youngest is like arming the Iranians with the atom bomb…

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  7. Dorothy said on July 10, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Well my kids were in high school when we had this one particular exchange, and I can’t even recall what we were talking about. But I know I used “fuck” in a sentence. Laura looked at Josh and very dryly said “I just love it when Mom drops the F bomb.” That about made my day!

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  8. Undercover Black Man said on July 10, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Hey Nancy. There’s a three-man play/revue currently playing in L.A. titled “Nigger Wetback Chink.” How the f*ck would the Los Angeles Times deal with this doozy, in a feature story about show’s three writer-performers?

    You got it: “N*gger W*tback Ch*nk.”

    (The Asterisk… not just for record books anymore.)

    As with your “Die, n—–, die” example, I momentarily wondered whether the play’s official title included the asterisks.

    And then I thought, hey, if you’re gonna print “W*tback,” just print “Wetback.” If you’re gonna print “N*gger,” just print “Nigger.”

    Fan-fluttering indeed.

    P.S. Thanks for the linkage. Giant Negroes rock!

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  9. Peter said on July 10, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    My bad parenting moment just happened last Friday – I was watching the Sox implode against Minnesota. When the Twins had the bases loaded, I said it would be perfect if the Twins hit a grand slam when on the next pitch they obliged! I just let out “Oh fuck me!” when I found out my 11 year old son was right behind me, and he said “Dad! I’m shocked! I only hear that from Mom when she’s driving!”

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  10. czucky Dimes said on July 10, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Oh, dear me, I hope I have all the no-no words firmly fixed now. Let’s see, there’s the n-word, the f-word, the c-word the d-word, the m-word, b-word, the s-word, the q-word, the l-word, and the r-word. Do I have them all now? I certainly hope so. Ach, sheise, ich habe “votze” vergessen.

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  11. Dorothy said on July 10, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    We should make comments one day just for fun, using the first and last letters of the words and see who can decipher. Succinctness will come in handy.

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  12. brian stouder said on July 10, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    The NAACP is meeting in Detroit this week, and yesterday they “buried the n-word.”

    An interesting article.

    It was giving me deja vu; in Eric Foner’s book about Reconstruction there is a quote from a New Orleans newspaper editorial, exhorting the city’s Freedmen to set aside their “n___r” music and ways, and embrace the Free Black ways (the city’s post-war black population included many condescending mulattos and formerly upper-class blacks who were trying to hang onto their social standing)

    The one thing for certain is I have no real grasp of the depth of meanings that the word nigger conveys. But I think that the term has an odd mix of prideful iconoclasm (on the one hand) and spiteful hatred (on the other), which makes it a sort of classic cuss word. Presumeably when officialdom and orthodoxy tries to “bury” a word, the countdown begins for the day it is exhumed and renovated

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  13. LA mary said on July 10, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    The giant negro roundup reminded me of the local weekly in the town in NJ where I grew up. In the late fifties and early sixties, there would be items on the police blotter like, “Negro spotted walking near railroad tracks Friday afternoon.”
    This was a town fifteen miles from NYC with no black residents. As late as the sixties, a cross was burned on the lawn of a black doctor who had moved there. In my senior year of high school, 1971, one black kid enrolled in the school. By then we were falling all over ourselves to show how tolerant we were. If you look at my yearbook, you see many photos of him. One black kid out of a thousand students.
    His name was Michael Jackson, by the way. Not the famous one.

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  14. brian stouder said on July 10, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Class of ’71, eh? I was a Class of ’79 guy, and Fort Wayne Community Schools was rapidly desegregating just ahead of me from the 5th grade on. There is no doubt that I profited greatly from the deal

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  15. Danny said on July 10, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    His name was Michael Jackson, by the way. Not the famous one.

    Is that code for, “Not the famous one … whom I met on many occassions at local stores on and about my daily, normal life.”

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  16. LA mary said on July 10, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Nah, Danny. He doesn’t hang around these parts any more. I think he’s in Dubai.

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  17. MarkH said on July 10, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Actually, mary, with your connections I’d think you would know where he is. Word is he and his posse are causing minor trouble at a resort in St. Michael’s MD, same place Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have palatial no-fly-zone digs. St. Michael’s is a cool place; too bad about the new infections.

    Speaking of brushes with greatness…

    mary, what’s up with that newly-found-out horndog LA mayor, Villaraigosa? He’s been stepping out on his wife for a year with a hot 35-year-old Latina news anchor from Telemundo, gets busted 4th of July, goes into hiding, the TV newscasts are all over it INCLUDING guess who? Right! Mirthala Salinas goes on Telemundo with the story of her own affair with the mayor, causing his marriage to crash, conveniently leaving her name out, saying it’s…”unknown…”. who he was cheating with!!!?? Did I get that right? Did they not suspend her right after that airing?

    The best stuff is never made up.

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  18. LA mary said on July 10, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    They did suspend her.
    He’s been a horndog for years, pretty shamelessly. After he was elected to the state assembly he disappeared for a few days with an associate’s wife. His wife was left to answer reporters’ questions about his whereabouts.
    The rumor is Mirthala is pregnant, by the way….
    When I first met him (he’s a neighbor. I live in a neighborhood full of Latino politicos) he was not living with his wife. She had booted him out for an affair. This must have been 15 years ago. They split several other times, more than were made public. The split 15 years ago or so was repaired by Gloria Molina, who is now a county commissioner. She told Antonio he had to get back together with Corina if he wanted a career in politics, so he did. Gloria Molina sort of calls the shots for one group of Latino politicians. Art Torres used to call the shots for the other group here in LA, but I don’t think he does anymore. There was a nasty rivalry between the two groups which unfortunately served to cancel them both out.
    Antonio has two kids from two different relationships as well as two with Corina, by the way.
    Our previous mayor shed a wife while he was mayor, but it was pretty quiet. The one before that was too Catholic to marry the woman he lived with, since he had either divorced or had annulled his marriage to the mother of his kids.
    And Tom Bradley had a daughter who kept getting busted for drugs before that. His crazy chief of police, Darryl Gates, had a son that had a drug problem and kept getting busted for robbing pharmacies.
    What a cool city. Sex and Drugs. And George Clinton will be here August 18.

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  19. MarkH said on July 10, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Leave it to our own LA mary, chronicler of debauchery.

    And, Danny, that film is one my favorite guilty pleasures, with that scene a favorite. DeMornay at her most fetching, diabolically speaking, of course.

    “…Claire…my legs are broken…she’s in the house…”

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  20. Danny said on July 10, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    I know, Mark. We just rewatched that movie a few weeks back. Very fun movie.

    “Something to matter, Claire? … When your husband makes love to you, it’s MY face he sees. When your baby’s hungry, it’s MY breast that feeds him. Look at you! When push comes to shove… you can’t even breathe!”

    Speaking of movies, you all have to go see “Live Free or Die Hard.” One of the best I have seen in a very long time.

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  21. brian stouder said on July 10, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    Nope – but we took the young folks to see Evan Almighty, and found it to be a very entertaining, kid-friendly picture. It had lots of laughs, and a nice payoff (so to speak) in the end

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  22. john c said on July 11, 2007 at 6:34 am

    My dad was – and is – a creative curser when there are little ears around. When the old Evinrude wouldn’t start on the sailboat, and he’d be pulling and pulling and pulling away at it, we could count on a string of: “Son of a BISCUIT!” and “God BLESS us all!” It also reminds me of the great cursing in “A Christmas Story,” when the old man was wrestling with the furnace, or when the Bumpus’ dogs attacked the house. I love it when Darrin McGavin (the old man) is fit to be tied as the dogs escape out the back door. He struggles with rage, looking for words and then …”NOT A FINGAH!”

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  23. Kirk said on July 11, 2007 at 7:38 am

    My sister and I (and my mom) exploded in laughter when, on a vacation trip to the Smokies, my dad called another driver a “piss-diddling shit-willy.”

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  24. Julie Robinson said on July 11, 2007 at 8:45 am

    School desegregation did not come easily here in the Fort. My husband, North Side class of ’74, was just reminiscing about the race riots, knife fights in the cafeteria, and metal detectors. In contrast, the scandal of my high school in tiny Sycamore, Illinois, was some girls getting caught smoking in the restroom. Smoking, as in Virginia Slims.

    But when I got here in late ’79 the school system was still fighting full integration. They only acquiesed after a big fat lawsuit. At one point, the school superintendent bragged that $1 million had been spent on attorney fees. Little wonder that we opted for a private school. And we are WASPs, not people of color.

    Today, that superintendent’s name graces a major school building downtown, and the Supreme Court of our land no longer thinks integration is necessary.

    BTW, did you see the quote from Rep. Charles Rangel concerning our noble Bush? “Well,” he said, “I really think he shatters the myth of white supremacy once and for all.”

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  25. Dorothy said on July 11, 2007 at 9:05 am

    I enjoyed “Live Free or Die Hard” too, Danny. Saw it with my son and his fiance when they were in town for a week recently. I liked “Ocean’s 13” as well. Both were very entertaining.

    Hey Mary been meaning to mention that yes, my son DID buy me the Animals in Translation book for Christmas. Haven’t cracked it yet but will after I finish the one I’m reading now.

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  26. brian stouder said on July 11, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Julie – I guess come to think of it, when I was at Weisser Park in 1973, it was segregated. The school must have had a student body that was 80% black – but my experience there was positive all around. I remember my older brother went through turbulance at Ben Geyer back in that time frame – but things seemed always to work out for me (at Irwin, Weisser, Geyer, and then South Side).

    But now that you mention it, Ian Rolland’s suit was in the mid-80’s, wasn’t it? Lester Grile’s era was indeed marked by segregation…although if you judged it from my vantage point, it was economic segregation as much as racial

    (PS – Geyer is now Towles Montessori, and both our school-age young folks are accepted there for this next year)

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