Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I think my blog posts demonstrate that I'm a bit of a lexophile. I recently blogged about my interest in taboo words, especially the F-word - and I own a book by the same name. I also own a book called "Merde" which is all about saying naughty things in French.

So I was very interested to see all the words that were being suggested to Merriam-Webster for dictionary inclusion.

I was amazed to see that somebody proposed "gaslight" because I thought that the meaning being proposed was already in the dictionary. I hope it will make it - I used the word in JULIA & BUDDY:
gaslight (verb) : to drive someone insane by making them doubt their perceptions or memories

Psychologists use the term gaslighting to describe this type of systematic lying — an allusion to an old movie in which a man drives his wife to question her sanity by telling her odd lies and manipulating the level of gaslight in the house so that she keeps seeing lights dim for no reason. —Martha Beck, O Magazine, 2/2/2010

I observed in that recent blog post ("J&B Proceeds") that: "Fuck has become slightly less naughty during my lifetime, but only slightly." But after tonight's NYCPlaywrights meeting I have to wonder if it has become less naughty at all.

At tonight's NYCPlaywrights meeting we had a reading of a pathologically bad play - so bad that I found myself thinking that the playwright should really spend more time on our planet before he attempts to write about human behavior. It was so bad that for once I wasn't the only person in the room pointing out that it was bad during the post-reading feedback session - several other people said exactly what I would have said. So I was able to lay back and chill.

But one of the NYCPlaywrights members, a woman not much older than me, stood up and went on a tirade about the playwright's use of the F-word. Now he did have a character, a suburban woman who was doing some gardening, use the word to unrealistic excess in the given situation, but that was certainly the very very least that was wrong with the play. There were so many more reasons to complain about it. But that's what she focused on.

Now normally I welcome tirades at NYCPlaywrights, since I hate to be the only one tirading (is that a word? better contact Merriam-Webster!) in an evening. But I was truly amazed by how offensive she found the F-word.

You would think that people in the theatre world would be completely unphased by the F-word. I mean, David Mamet is admired for using it frequently, and few actors can avoid playing at least one role in which they must say "fuck."

I've been a little concerned about the fact that I portray Buddy in J&B as having an f-word phobia - I've been afraid that it's unbelievable. Tonight's anti-F-word tirade has put that fear to rest. If a middle-aged life-long New Yorker - and an actor too - can get so offended at the word, then surely it must be a far more common phobia than I realized.

Speaking of interesting words - the Willie the Whaler ads always use sea-faring slang, which is one reason they are so much fun. In this ad from the May 25, 1940 issue of the New Yorker, we see Willie displaying his skills as a whaler:

To translate his nautical lingo:

I've already defined shellback in the prior Willie post.

Up to the hitches - to insert a harpoon into a whale up to the knot on the rope that the harpoon is tied to. I could see that becoming a euphemism for sex too - if it isn't already.

Second mate's nip: A full measure of liquor.
(from the inestimable Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang.)

I'm not at all sorry to see that Willie's a bad whaler - I'd rather he be an old drunk guy than a guy who hurts whales.