The Red-Light District of Language
Illustration by Bob AulThis book review profiles a scholarly journal devoted to offensive language, so let's start with three World Trade Center zingers:
Offended? Of course you are. And that's the point of Maledicta:TheInternationalJournalofVerbalAggression, a delightfully profane yet surprisingly intellectual academic journal devoted to what founder and editor Reinhold Aman describes as "offensive and negatively valued words and expressions from all languages and cultures, past and present." Since 1977, the journal has enraptured professors and comics with articles, lists and essays examining such arcane topics as poetic insults from Ghana, Israeli soccer cheers and jeers and every racist, religious and ethnic joke imaginable: WhatdidMichaelJacksonsaythefirsttimehesawhisson?"That'smine?Howcomehelookslikeanigger?"
What's so remarkable about Maledicta, however, is the seriousness with which the authors approach foul language. Many academic journals include articles on the subject from time to time but usually take a flippant stance. A stroll through the red-light district of language, though, offers a glimpse into a culture's very essence: an unmitigated dose of a group's phobias, hatreds, obsessions and prejudices. Maledicta's contributors understand this and thus write with rigor and ribaldry to examine why, say, one of the worst insults you can hurl at a Finn is to tell them to go smell mildew. More important, Maledicta's writing style is accessible and fresh, not the stultifying jumble of run-on sentences that plagues modern-day academic writing.
Now, some guy and gal jokes:
The articles in Maledicta13continue the journal's intent to catalog, examine and reprint everything and anything in print that people might find distasteful. Aman pens an essay, "'Jew Motherfucker' and 'Nigger': The Foulmouthed & Lying Clintons," that meticulously examines the verbal gaffes of a couple whom Aman calls "the two foulest amoral slimebags that have ever besmirched the White House" and the subsequent mainstream-media blackout on the matter. Joe Darwin Palmer devotes a couple of columns to the euphemisms Henry Miller and Anas Nin used in their erotic short stories. And a former Saturday-morning-cartoon producer shares with Maledictareaders just some of the hundreds of complaints his network's decency board lodged against his cartoon—for instance, a censor once objected to the line "his booger box gets bigger" because the censor "agreed to only one reference to nasal mucus as 'boogers' and that line occurred on page seven."
Time for some Iraq cracks!
Maledicta13is hilarious, informative and a blast at open-mic readings (who knew Swahili had so many metaphors for a woman's private regions? You will after reading "Modern Swahili Vulvas and Vaginas"), but the journal serves a bigger purpose. From Lenny Bruce to George Carlin to Howard Stern, the vulgarians of popular culture have led the fight for freedom of speech. To verbally offend, they and Maledictaand especially the conservatives know, is to live. So please: love your country and say a fag joke from the Maledictaarchives. Or else the terrorists win.
MALEDICTA XIII BY VARIOUS AUTHORS; MALEDICTA PRESS. SOFTCOVER, 160 PAGES, $20. AVAILABLE AT SONIC.NET/MALEDICTA.
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