Saturday, August 29, 2009


This is a cartoon that I submitted recently but which was rejected for content. The term "up yours" was considered a little too racy for most newspaper funny pages, so it didn't get published. It was actually written by J.C. Duffy, of The Fusco Brothers and The New Yorker. He didn't have a market for it, so he offered it to me.

I knew it was "iffy" when I drew it, but I hoped "up yours" was innocuous enough to get by. I guess I should have known better. Lord knows what kind of calamity and social decay would have been wrought upon western civilization if this kind of profanity were to be printed in a comic. The body shudders, the mind reels.

Profanity is profanity purely and only because we all agree that it is. If we stop forbidding certain words or phrases, they immediately lose their power. These kinds of words have the magical power to offend simple because we endow them with it. The myth of profanity exists purely because we believe in it, which, in my opinion, is archaic.

I've never studied the subject, but my brain tells me this likely started ages ago when people were more ridiculously superstitious (I say "more" because people are still superstitious, but we weed certain traditional taboos out over the centuries and tell ourselves we're not) and they feared that saying certain things about god would bring his wrath down upon us. (I know, some people still believe that.)

From there, I suspect we added certain sexually-loaded language to the list, fearing that if we spoke these kinds of words, orgies would break out and society would collapse. I know from personal experience that there are people living in the United States of America in the 21st century who actually fear that if their children hear (or read) about homosexuality, they will become homosexual. These are people with jobs and college educations and drivers licenses.

Personally, I think it is all a lot of hooey. When I was raising my daughters, they were not denied knowledge of profanity, but told that certain words and phrases were off limits only until they were old enough to understand the social implications and use them appropriately. I didn't want my six-year-old using language that other people would use to make inaccurate assumptions about their character.

Not surprisingly, this worked. They weren't forbidden from knowing or uttering these things, they were simply warned of other people's reactions to them if they did and asked to wait until they fully understood this concept before they talked that way. Both are now well-rounded, happy adults. Their brains didn't explode.

I also did this with all matters of sexuality, illegal drugs, manners of dress, etc. If you tell your kids the truth and give them good, factual information on which to make their decisions, they tend to make the right decisions. Imagine that.

I could go on and on about the myth of profanity, but it wouldn't make any difference, so f*ck it.

I hope you like this cartoon, as a person who hates doing laundry, I got a chuckle out of it.


Chriss Pagani said...

I remember 4 or 5 years ago (or more) 7up had a brief run with some commercials. The catch phrase was Make 7up Yours .... and it was always divided into "Make 7" and then "Up Yours" - which I gather created enough controversy that the campaign didn't last long.

Have you ever heard the oft-told tale of how people, when put under anesthesia, often utter strings of profanity? Even preachers and other presumed straight-laced types. It makes me think that there is something even more primitive than silly superstitions going on here.

Directly related, sometimes people who lose the ability to speak due to a stroke still spout curse words. Again, it's like these things emanate from a different part of the brain than regular speech. Perhaps then, it is the primitive brain that we fear and the words are merely the symbols.

Father Joe said...

Very good philosophy of child rearing. The same can be said for food and treats. Studies have shown that if children aren't forbidden to eat certain foods then they won't crave them and will only eat until they're full.

I once had a conservative Christian roommate in college who believed that since the words sh#t and f#ck were "swear words" this meant that if one uttered them then that person was "taking the lords name in vain."

I actually had to pull out an unabridged dictionary to show him that they were in fact simply vulgar terms for feces and fornication respectively.

Anonymous said...

We put such ridiculous strictures on language. I think the verb "pee" is perfectly serviceable, whereas the 'politer' term "urinate" has always given me the creeps. Similarly, "to have intercourse" covers all interpersonal activities including conversation, and makes its sexual component sound like something that requires lab coats and stainless steel, while "f*ck" (deferential bow) is to the point and universally understood.

I'm all for euphemisms in general, as they are after all the foundation of innuendo, but to say that Word A and Word B mean exactly the same thing, but one is offensive and possibly legally actionable, while the other is not, is hypocritical hooey of the worst sort.

Unknown said...

Profanity - apparently - actually serves a purpose (if I am not the gazillionth person to point this out). A recent study says that swearing can increase pain tolerance. [ ]. My college years were, therefore, not wasted since at least one thing I learned there is useful!

Jym said...

=v= I remember a Mr. Boffo strip from the 1980s where one groundskeeper said to another, "I think Carlos is quitting," while Carlos was mowing the letter "F" into the lawn. I don't remember whether it ran in the papers, but it was in the first book collection (which had a number of strips before they were published in newspapers).

Berke Breathed has said that a lot of the gags he did in the 1980s wouldn't fly today.

Amyranth said...

I love it.

When I worked as a "sign specialist" at one job, we had to hand type all these large hanging signs that would go over bins full of stock. I used to entertain the idea that one day I'd quit, write my resignation letter on the sign and hang it up over the bins.

Diane said...

Can't believe this was censored!

Pseudonym said...

I'm going to use the term "bad language" as an encompassing term in what follows, but I'd like to stress that I don't believe that language can be, in and of itself, bad.

There are several varieties of bad language:

An insult is to treat a person with disrespect. For example, a phrase which questions someone's parentage is still usually considered disrespectful.

A taboo is invoking a subject which is not appropriate for the company. For example, there are several perfectly normal bodily functions which are considered impolite in certain types of company.

Profanity is debasing something that someone holds as sacred or important to their life. This is usually taken as a personal insult.

Finally, there's vulgarity. There are some words which are considered, in and of themselves, rude without regard to context.

It's the last one which is peculiar to English. No other language has quite so many of them as we do.

You're kind of right about taboo. There are some words in English which are euphemistic, because the "real" word would invoke something that we don't want to invoke for superstitious reasons. But they're usually not things that a modern person would think about.

The word "bear" is an excellent example. This is a euphemism, derived from an Old Germanic word which means "the brown one". The true name for the bear ("arktos" in Greek and "ursus" in Latin) was not used by Northern European hunters, because the consequences were feared.

Vulgarity is more interesting. It largely depends on the word, but the usual way that a word becomes vulgar is actually due to class. Some of the words that we consider inherently impolite were once ordinary, everyday Saxon terms. After the Norman invasion, people who used those phrases were considered low or uncouth.

A similar thing happened during the Renaissance, when a bunch of new classically-derived terms entered the vocabulary; old words became passe.

So I think that religion has essentially nothing to do with it. Having said that, I think there is a grain of truth to the "orgies breaking out" theory, in that words tended to be seen as vulgar in eras which followed eras when orgies did break out, such as the English Restoration.

Zoe Doe said...

I'm actually surprised this didn't make it to print. Remember those "Make 7-Up Yours" ads from the late '90s? I thought we'd gotten over this. I agree with you 100% on profanity. While I believe profanity (or rather, the words we consider to be profanity) should be limited to times we're actually using the words for emphasis, I find it odd that a collection of sounds can be considered so vulgar.

Anonymous said...

I was raised that way, too. I've fallen in love with the Japanese idea for it. In Japan, there is no profanity. There's only levels of polite, where you decide which level to use depending on the person and your relationship to the person.

If anyone asks/complains, I just tell them that I don't believe in the existance of "bad words". It's worked well for me. Then again, nothing I do gets published. Tough luck on the comic. I thought it hilarious.

jmckalex said...

What I find remarkable about the fact that this cartoon was rejected for using the phrase "up yours" is how much things must have changed in the US. Not so long ago, I remember a commercial which ran on national television which used the phrase "up yours" for comic effect. A little googling found the commercial here:

Oh well. At least the internet provides some way to do an end-run around pointless censorship.

Hermite said...

I love it! Glad I got to see it here anyway. And I'm so going to try it. Wondering how to make an "F" though...

Name/URL said...

Nothing illustrates our foibles as humans more than the art of wordsmithing. You could have an English chap call you all sorts of vile things in his particular vernacular and Joe Blow America would keep walking, thinking how amused we get when he hear a Cockney accent. Or listen to radio and wonder how a sector of that media have turned 'peace', 'love', and 'understaing' into swear words themselves. But, I digress,.....

Piraro said...

Thanks to all for the added opinions, anecdotes and information. I love language and am always interested to see how it developed and is used.

The etymology of the word "bear" was particularly interesting!

vclortho said...

Would it be worth re-submitting with another phrase that might be less, um, taxing? "Get bent", perhaps?

Anonymous said...

It is important to endow certain words with power. Swearing out loud at the top of one's lungs can be a cathartic release under stress. Of course, swearing is also indicative of a limited vocabulary. But that is the magic of words, endowed with varied qualities and is part of what makes language a living organism. Some words are friendly and docile, some are carnivorous with fangs. Some words die out while still others are born. To remove certain power from words would also remove certain qualities that make us human.

Cuss words are something ideally I try to avoid, but the paradox in trying to avoid something is heightened awareness of its existence. As long as we are human, I believe there will always be 'off limits' words. And part of the fun is trespassing those limits and wacthing the reactions.

Deb said...

Wondering if you can post the LA Times cartoon from Saturday, August 29th with the Doggy Daycare cartoon. I'm trying to find it online and can't seem to find it anywhere. We want to give a copy to our Vet (doggy daycare provider). My husband and I found it absolutely hilarious!
Deb Jo

Piraro said...

@DebJo...write to and he can provide you with an electronic version of that cartoon for your vet. Thanks for the inquiry.

James said...

This is brilliant. But it does make you wonder what the f*ck is wrong with the comic industry and censorship. I have all the "Pearls before Swine" collections, and Stephan Pastis frequently points out how foolish it is that you can't even say "sucks" or "bite me" in the comics.

Anonymous said...

It's just like that woman who was vegetarian that loved tofu so much she wanted her license plate to show it. She submitted "ILOVETOFU" Do the abbreviation math to figure out what the DMV thought it really meant.


Anonymous said...

@DebJo...Try the link shown below.


RSJ said...

The cartoon's funny and pointed, so, of course, today's mushy 'no controversy' newspaper editors would shy away from it. (But that's another subject.)

James brings up a good point. I hear 'you suck,' and 'bite me' as well as 'crap,''ass' and 'bitch' on TV shows all the time, and yet they are not allowed in newspaper comics. Really odd.

Many moons ago, before Nixon quit, I misspent my youth working some radio gigs -- back then, the FCC was ding-dong crazy over this profanity stuff. If we had a nature show, the narrator could say 'cock' as long as he was talking about birds, and 'bitch' as long as the topic was a female dog. Change the subject to a discussion of male genitalia or the mayor's wife and you would get a fine.

Perhaps the worst moment came (for the station management, anyway) when we played a radio commercial for a major US airline. The original copy, intoned by a smooth, deep-voiced announcer, read:

"Let our hostesses pamper you in luxury as you jet non-stop across the country in only six hours!"

But the old-fashioned 1/4" audio tape the ad was recorded on broke and we had to quickly splice it together as best we could. What went out over the air retained the 'count' without the 'ry' and, hence, one of George Carlin's seven dirty words was broadcast loud and clear to our happy hausfrau listeners, leaving my program director sweating as to whether the station would receive a large FCC fine for transmitting indecent material. Fortunately, except for some phone calls from irate prudes, nothing came of it.

I was also nearly fired for reading a full 60-second ad for a local meat market consisting of nothing but the prices of various meat cuts. To alleviate my boredom at reading this ad for the 50th time, I improvised on the tagline, intoning with smiling brio, "Remember, you can't beat our meat at B&H!"

I was just lucky the GM had a sense of humor and was quitting his job to move on.

Asian Nigger said...

Hey, how about denigrate? It is synonymous with derogatory right? Its latin root is "denigare", which means to blacken. Therefore "to blacken" means to "make it bad". Does anybody have concerns with this?