Monday, July 28, 2008

Bullshit

I was just reminded of something incredible:

Last week, I was listening to a radio station that was playing "Money" by Pink Floyd. (I know... could they pick a worse Floyd tune?) What was incredible, however, is that they bleeped out the word bullshit (in the lyric about "do-goody-good bullshit"). What the fuck is that? Since when can't a radio station play a record with the word bullshit in it? Is bullshit even vulgar in this context? Isn't it correct to say that the word now has a well-established meaning that has nothing at all to do with the fecal matter of bulls? That no one bought Frankfurt's book taking it to be an essay on bull feces shows this adequately.

In fact, it's a wholly different word: bullshit is not equivalent to bull shit. Assume that rat is a forbidden term. Would Socrates then be forbidden in virtue of the fact that it contains the consecutive letters r, a, and t? No. So why should it count against bullshit that shit is forbidden?

It's late, I'm on cold medication, the cold medication is keeping me awake (despite its being "nighttime"), and I forgot almost everything I learned in the philosophy of language seminar I took way back in graduate school, but I'm fucking outraged right now....

(And thanks to the jerk-- you know who you are-- that reminded me of this.)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

If bullshit is banned because of the rude word it contains, conisder th poor people of Scunthorpe (UK) and the offence they must cause

imipolex g-unit said...

Contamination by containment will surely doom the otherwise inoffensive "snigger" to bannination.

Spiros said...

Anon:

Nice example.

Spiros said...

imipolex:

Nice example.

Also: Am I correct in thinking (vaguely remembering) that the "r-a-t" in "Socrates" example comes from Quine? If so, could you remind me of where it is? To think that I used to know that shit....

729 said...

It's from The Roots of Reference, I believe.

Krinos said...

I wonder if the analogy that runs:

Socrates:rat::Bullshit:shit

is right. Surely the force of calling something 'bullshit,' as opposed to 'nonsense' or 'vain talk' is derived not only from the use the term has, but the fact that it, at least on its surface, is a compund noun. (bull+shit).

The other examples don't have the compund element, since once you take out the potentially offensive part, the rest is nonsense. People who think 'bullshit' should be outlawed aren't in the same league of idiocy as those who think 'scunthorpe' should be.

Spiros said...

729: You mean the essay by that name, or are you saying that it's in an essay in that collection?

Spiros said...

krinos:

You're right on this. Bullshit, even in its non-scatological meaning, has a certain history which is inevitably linked with shit from bulls. I bet you can play a song about the shitsou (the little annoying dogs) on the radio.

The outrage had more to do with the fact that I KNOW that I've heard that song on the radio thousands of times before, and the word was never bleeped.

Krinos said...

Ah, so it's the inconsistent application of the rule that's bothersome. So the thought is that once we start treating compounds with potentially offensive components as inoffensive neologisms, we can't go back? This seems right -- we can acknowledge etymology, but not be held hostage by it.

Spiros said...

krinos:

Sounds right.

Santa said...

Spiros: The double standard on radio is truly amazing, even if the word was not considered a compound word by radio censors. "Bullshit" will be censored, but the word "fuck" sung in line "Tell me who the fuck are you" in The Who's "Who Are You" is not bleeped, perhaps because it is fleeting in reference. Also in the outro fade of the Guess Who's "American Woman", the singer whose name escapes me sings "American shit". This is also not bleeped on the radio.

Yet along the same lines as "Money", the word "down" is bleeped when referring to going down on somebody in the Alanis Morissette song "You Oughta Know". How long before radio bleeps the word "pick" in Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell" where the lyric is "'cause if they catch you in the back seat trying to pick her locks"? Isn't the latter lyric just as suggestive if not more so if people want to feign puritanical outrage?

Censorship is silly.

Spiros said...

santa:

Let's not forget the one thing that can be said in favor of "Who Are You?": it's about the Sex Pistols.

(Listening to *Damned, Damned, Damned* right now, incidentally....)