Potty-Mouth & Obscenity as Satire
Today’s interest in the featured word began a few months ago when this website was banned on several servers in my home county. A coven of brain-dead, born-again female morons actually wrote that I was “a potty-mouth atheist” and that little minds should be protected from my idolatrous seethings.
Now this happened in the county, Haldimand County, Ontario, Canada, where I was born, in which I have written 12 books about words and been termed in a university text book published by Oxford University Press “one of Canada’s best etymologists.” Haldimand is an industry-poor county trying to attract sophisticated factories to its small towns. Would you want your children living next door to book burners and censorious evangelical nutbars? You will decide if they are neighbours you would prefer to encounter, should you ever contemplate moving a business to Haldimand County.
What about intellectual freedom in a county where everything you might want to express publicly must be vetted by fundamentalist thought police? We’ll leave their insult for another time and for a lawyer to consider whether or not “potty-mouth atheist” et alia constitutes criminal libel under Canadian law. I’d love to sue them white, bleed them of every penny they have! In the meanwhile, I loll in sybaritic degeneracy here in the gold-lamé litter that I use as a hammock on the summer porch, all the while contemplating the small truth that potty-mouth is a fascinating term of abuse, well worth etymologizing.
Obscenity can be satirical; it can even aid and abet self-satire — give it a leg up, so to speak. As an example, take one sentence written by one of the most influential American novelists, Henry Miller, a writer who has, among pre-literate brain-stems, the reputation of being a “dirty old man.” Henry Miller was no such thing. He was a breathlessly funny, original writer who thought deeply and humorously about zesty questions. But nowadays Miller is unjustly neglected, chiefly because he gloried in full use of the taboo words of the English language. Sour, man-hating women of the Sapphic Fascist persuasion who now control so many English departments in American colleges and universities have ruled that Miller may no longer reside in the accepted canon of the modern American novel. What do I say to that? I’d steal the EverWetty batteries from those dildo-ramming dykes!
Henry Miller was independent of all women and so has been branded a male chauvinist pig. In his delightful, achingly funny memoir of Paris before World War Two, Quiet Days in Clichy, Miller writes this wonderful line, making fun of his male bulldog reputation, “I’m going to fuck you, Wanda, and when I fuck you, you’re going to stay fucked.” That is rare, vivid, American, masculine self-satire, impossible without its barking obscenity. Quiet Days in Clichy was first published in Paris in 1956 but was banned for sale in the Untied States until 1965, thanks mainly to the born-again evangelical nitwits who still control so much of the American agenda, for whom even the mildest expletive deserves thumb screws or the cat-o-nine-tails whipped across naked shoulders.
Take the noun and adjective potty-mouth meaning ‘uses dirty words.’ It is a putdown beloved by female do-gooders and by males who have dwindled into pussy-whipped dweebs, timid little tit-sucks who imagine they are more virtuous than persons who do employ coarse language.
Potty-mouth always refers to words the speaker defines as dirty. Potty-mouth suggests an infant uttering the words poo-poo, kaka, doodoo or shit for the first time and then being chastised by his born-again mommy, perhaps just a gentle verbal rebuke, perhaps a smite on the side of his little head with a heavy family bible. After all, brainless vengeance is mine, sayeth the senile, vindictive delinquent who passes for the Lord God in the Old Testament.
Potty is a nursery evasion for the word toilet. Thus the intent of referring to an adult male’s cursing as being potty-mouth is to infantilize the curser, as if to say “That’s a baaaaad word and only naughty little boys use it.”
Some women wish to impugn the power of all vivid speech. It is yet another way to diminish male power. Don’t just cut off men’s balls and have them bronzed for the mantelpiece. Castrate male language too whenever possible. Well, guess what, Salomé? There's one hunk of salami you ain't gettin'.
Vulgar words signal that a male’s speech has not been deballed by the ladies, that he is not the kind of hubbie who pees sitting down because the wifelet says that peeing standing-up causes urinous splatter to collect on and to spot the pristine ceramic rim of the toilet bowl. So what? If piss collects, clean it off. By the way, my little guardian mommies of the pissoir, men urinate standing up. Ugly, isn't it? The position has something to do with evolution, with fight or flight. The primordial Homo defecans who squatted to go wee-wee got eaten by the hyenas. Standing while pissing was defensive. The urinator could take his whizz while keeping both eyes peeled for predators lurking in the tall grasses. Nowadays the predators wear Laura Ashley gingham frocks.
The power of verbal vulgarity is incontestable. Obscenity is a vital ploy of vivid argument and I want it at my disposal as a writer, always. Startling language permits one to express with all due contempt everything about current social habits and modern familial culture that is dégoûtant. In a world whose ethos bores and appals me, I have at least in my quiver the steel arrows of tabooed obscenity to shoot into this world's shabby, treacle-for-blood heart and watch it die, flopping and gasping like a hooked carp on the cold dock of reason.
Etymology of Potty-Mouth
Potty is a fairly recent American coinage, recorded first in print as potty-chair (1941) in a California newspaper advertisement flogging plastic chamber pots for wee kiddies.
Then came potty chair to name a toddler’s toilet chair with a hole for a chamber pot in the seat. Soon afterward, ever seeking to evade anything natural about the human body and to disguise its functions in a rich syrop of weasel words and unctuous circumlocution, North American mommies discovered that go potty could be yet another antibacterial euphemism for “to take a shit, to have a dump.” Thus, unnumbered generations of children attempting to learn how to speak their language had to look upward into the glazed eyes of Giant American Mom, pursing her silicone-bloated lips like a hypertrophic kissing gourami, as she whispered, “Lulu go potty?”
I prefer the TV documentary that shows the freely brought-up five-year-old British public school boy who runs across a summer lawn to his mother, stands beside her chaise-lounge and states plainly, “I need most desperately, Mama, to defecate and to defecate at once.” Ha! Now that child is learning English, not some edited, censored, mushed mishmash of euphemism, some effete dancing class of decorous tippy-toed words that are of no use whatsoever to an adult speaker seeking clear, precise communication.
A Potty of which I Approve
The only use of the word potty of which I approve occurs in the American phrase potty parity, a growing demand that in public buildings the comfortable number of toilets needed for women begins to equal the number of toilets for men. Lineups in front of women’s toilets show the contempt and stupidity of male architects.
Closing the Potty Mouth
Thank goodness that obscenity got defined in American legal language before Reagan crammed the Supreme Court benches with Neanderthals like that pudgy little fascista Antonin Scalia whose sole cradle reading was the memoirs of Attila the Hun.
For something to be legally potty-mouth or obscene, the average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the work appeals chiefly to prurient interest, that it describes sexual conduct offensively, and that no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value adheres to it. So far, etymology is safe. But creatures that began their lives lying on their thoraxes at the bottom of ponds are now being elected to American public office. If you don't want potty-brains like Sarah Palin and Rand Paul to decide what your young children are going to be reading some day, don't stay home from the next election!
Read my essay on the etymology and psychology of the word cunt.
Some of My Other Columns that Discuss Euphemism in English
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copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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