Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

How Many Sloppy Seconds in a New York Minute?

Bad words really suck.

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Is that George Carlin I hear laughing from beyond the grave?

When he died a few months ago, we posted a humble tribute to the great man and Psychology Today carried an excellent in-depth interview by Jay Dixit. Were curious George alive today, we're pretty sure he'd be cracking up at the recent indefinite suspension of hockey-playing loudmouth Sean Avery. Apparently, Avery made an off-color remark about how a couple of his former girlfriends were dating other hockey players, using a phrase, composed of two innocuous words that somehow, when put together, become explosive: nitrogen and glycerine, sloppy and seconds.

Watching the various news outlets desperately try to dance around the phrase without stepping on their own flat feet was most entertaining -- especially since neither the phrase nor either of the words composing it have been declared officially verboten up til now, as far as I can tell.

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But now that the NHL's offended enough to suspend the guy, no more sloppy seconds for anyone, apparently.

Maybe we're about to expand our habit of humiliating ourselves by saying stupid things like "the c-word" by expanding the inanity to "the s-s phrase."

"In today's news, another hockey player has been suspended for refering to his ex-girlfriend as 'the s-s phrase.'"

 It's only a matter of time.

There appears to be a tipping point at which we somehow determine that enough of us know the secret meaning of a heretofore obscure word or phrase that we have to stop saying it publicly. It's an amusing process to watch, since knowing the hidden meaning means we all know what we're avoiding, which makes the effort to avoid it seem what, hypocritical? Absurd? Delusional?

It's a funny thing: we seem to believe in the magical power of words. Don't believe me? Try saying, out loud, the following sentence: "I hope my children get cancer." Even if you can do it, it feels downright creepy, right?

It goes the other way, too. Remember when it was offensive to say something "sucked?" Well, no more. Whatever its salacious origins, the word is now as acceptable as oreo cookies. A few years ago, Seth Stevenson amusingly argued in Slate that we should all just relax and use the word freely without thinking of its, you know, meaning. 

Which is fine by me, but why not apply that line of reasoning to all the other still-offensive words we use in ways not aligned with their literal meaning, like doctors prescribing drugs "off-label?" Strangely, it would be acceptable to say I though the film Rachel Gets Married sucked, but it would be offensive to say that watching it f*cked up my night.

Go figure.

Hypocrisy is like lying: you start out small but before you know it, you're drifting into the emptiness, like an astronaut's toolbag.

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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