Tuesday, May 24, 2005

@#$%!

Now, how exactly does one pronounce that, anyway?

"@#$%!", I mean. How does one pronounce that? Do we make this little bleeping sound, or something?

The most likely answer is that one doesn't pronounce it to begin with. "@#$%!" is more of an identifier than a serious word. I guess that it's used to dignify pieces of writing where profanity is needed but not merited, whether by propriety or by external censorship.

We usually find "@#$%!" and its variants in newspaper comic strips, I imagine. Comic strip characters get frustrated all the time, and a well-placed expression of this can be funny at the right moments.

Granted, actual swearwords themselves can be funny at the right moments, but newspaper comic strips have probably evolved to the point where generic expressions of frustration are the norm for that kind of comedy. (The relative freedom of most webcomics from standard forms of censorship, I must point out, allows them to use profanity with wild abandon.)

The degree of usage of profanity should really be considered a matter of character. Personally, I do use the occasional swearword, although I hold off on what I feel are some of the more vile statements. Other people don't swear at all. Still others are more than capable of swearing up a storm.

Consequently, fictional characters must run in the same vein. A fictional character will use a level of profanity that corresponds with how he is written and portrayed. The difficulty, however, lies in writing a character that has a vastly different "swear style" than its creator.

For some reason, a number of readers tend to ascribe the qualities of an author's characters to that author himself. This usually spells trouble for authors who run common themes throughout their books: Stephen King is particularly considered a heavy swearer because of his writings. Strange, but true.

Profanity in writing also holds a certain degree of consideration within the publishing world. I've already implied the distinction between newspaper comics and webcomics in this regard; A similar situation exists between the magazines and the novels of the world.

I find this odd, really. The censorship of profanity in print form presumably exists in order to prevent its undue influence on children. But, off hand, aren't we more likely to hear children saying 'bad words' than we are to see children writing it? It's not as though they can tell how a word is pronounced by merely reading it, after all.

I have to admit that we're better off safe than sorry, though. It's not as though I'm agreeable to having kindergarteners submit swear-laden homework assignments every day.

I figure, though, that the censorship of profanity in print exists more to ensure that we don't offend each others' sensibilities. There are three kinds of swearwords, it appears - the religious ones, the racist ones, and the sexual ones. All three can potentially offend sizable portions of the reading populace, although exactly why only these three categories effectively comprise offensive insult is beyond me. (Why don't we have swearwords that connote violent acts, for example?)

Maybe that's why expressions like "@#$%!" are technically safe. "@#$%!" by itself doesn't do anything. It doesn't culturally or aesthetically apply to a specific style of character, and it doesn't get associated with any established authors. "@#$%!" is too complex a collection of characters for children to understand or replicate. And, naturally, "@#$%!" has no obvious religious, racist or sexual connotations. Heck, we can't even pronounce the word, if it's even a word at all.

The trouble is that "@#$%!" by itself is unsatisfying. It's safe, yes, but it's unsatisfying. That, of course, disqualifies it from being a serious example of profanity. Cussing, after all, should really give us a little feeling of satisfaction afterwards.

What interesting quandaries we write for ourselves.

1 comment:

eClair said...

Well, I guess that you can think of it this way also:
By having "#@$&^!" instead of specific cuss words, you let the reader relate with the character by letting the reader fill it in.

Of course, the problem with that is the characterization of the character who is supposed to do the cussing.