The Con of Wrath.

I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about Polaris. Formerly “Toronto Trek”, one of the huger local cons, it changed its name a few years back and started featuring sf novelists in an attempt to expand into the literary end of the sf pool. Their media roots have always remained front and center, though. When I appear it’s always as one of their token literary types, and none of my panels tend to focus on written sf; offhand I don’t think any of this year’s panels did.

If there’s a criticism here, it’s only that Polaris shouldn’t try to be something it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with cons that cater to fans of Doctor Who and Stargate — movies and television, after all, have far broader appeal than does science fiction in its written form. Of course, the larger your audience, the more difficult it gets to avoid offending all of them. The more people in attendance, the greater the odds that some will collapse into apoplectic hysteria the moment Janet Jackson’s nipple makes an unscheduled split-second appearance on national television.

I had my own personal nipple moment at Polaris this past weekend, delivered unto me by a woman who — well, some of you may remember a distant post in which I modestly proposed that the parents of young children should not be allowed to vote, on the grounds that parenthood causes a form of mild retardation. This woman exemplified that argument so powerfully that I’m now almost willing to take it seriously.

It began at “Avatar: the Theory of Pandora”, a productive hour of freewheeling bullshit, retconning, and evolutionary brainstorming between myself, Karl Schroeder, and a supporting cast of dozens. At some point I — as is my wont — used the word “fucking” as an adjective.

Exhibit A sat in the front row, two sprogs in tow (one 5-10, one possible preteen — my expertise in the age-determination of human larvae is not all it could be). She took strong exception: “Could we keep this PG? There are children in the audience, and if I hear that again I’m out of here.”

I explained  that the word “fuck” has a 900-year history, throughout most of which it was considered completely inoffensive. “It only became offensive 100-200 years ago, when a bunch of bible-thumping prudes who couldn’t get laid decided to stigmatize anything with an orifice.” Sadly, this cut no ice: “Well, I find it offensive.”

Ceiling Cat help me, I actually reined in my language for a bit there. Forced my tongue to articulate “ass-kicker” when it wanted to say “motherfucker”, that kind of thing. And those of you who’ve been making comments in past postings will be pleased to note that we covered a lot of ground: Pandora as an engineered construct, the obvious retcon represented by the prolemurs glimpsed briefly in the movie, Cameron’s famous admission that the Na’vi  “had to have tits”. Karl and I and our supporting cast covered it all, and inevitably found ourselves dealing with the anomalous fact that the Na’vi are biped tetrapods when everything else on the planet is hexapodal. Ms. Virgin-Ears 2010 piped up that “Earth people can’t breathe the air on Pandora, so maybe there’s something magical in the atmosphere that makes the Na’vi look like us.”

I realized at this point that the loss of this woman’s voice would not significantly diminish the quality of the conversation. I don’t know if that had a significant impact on the degree of my self-censorship; I can only say that shortly after the dawning of this insight, my tongue felt the urge to form the phrase “shit-kicked”, and my brain did not override. True to her word, the woman in the front row gathered up her sprogs and left the room, and something in me heaved a small sigh of relief. I didn’t even wonder too much when three or four different con officials dropped in at various points throughout the rest of the panel, only to hover briefly at the back of the room and drift out again. The remainder of the hour went smoothly — so smoothly that, when Karl wound up the session by remarking that he would rather see design than natural selection in the biology of Pandora, I felt no hesitation in responding “What are you, a creationist?” And then, a moment later: “Actually, since the front row seems to have bailed: What are you, a fucking creationist?”

It got a big laugh.

We packed up. Someone wanted me to sign a book. I told him he’d have to wait until I found a urinal, which I did; the men’s washroom was down at the end of a long white deserted hallway. And when I emerged a minute later, four red shirts were standing in the hall to block passage.


We’d like to talk to you, Mr. Watts. Someone has lodged a formal complaint about your language during the panel.

My unspoken reaction was WTF? My spoken one, I think, was “Tough shit.” Or maybe just “tough.” Either way, it didn’t seem to soothe the redshirt who’d called me out, since she added that I’d also been charged with being inebriated while on the panel.

“Do I seem inebriated to you?” I asked. “Am I slurring my words, having any trouble expressing coherent thoughts?”

She told me she wasn’t buying that because — I shit you not — writers are well-known for being able to speak coherently while drunk. Which was such a delightful self-contradiction I knew then and there I was going to really enjoy the rest of the conversation.

I trotted out the usual arguments. There are people who find gay marriage offensive. There are those who are offended by the concept of evolution. Will we be taking their hurt feelings seriously as well?

Well, no, of course not, but the issue is there were children in the room.

So a parent drags her sprog out into the big bad world and the world is now obligated to accommodate her particular standards of morality? Because yes, you have every right to remove yourself from settings you find offensive; but having done so, the issue is resolved. Lodging a formal complaint is tantamount to stating that you get to order the rest of the world how to behave, that your personal outrage is legitimate grounds for censure; and really, in a free society1, is there an inalienable right to never be offended?

Well, we do advertise ourselves as a PG con, one of the redshirts replied, at which point another — name of Declan, I know him slightly, seems nice — pointed out that swearing is actually quite common in PG movies.

By now it was pretty evident that these people did not want to be here. They’d all checked out my panel performance in the wake of the complaint, after all, and seen nothing of concern; I hadn’t been spewing alcoholic vomit into the front row or insulting the audience. I obviously wasn’t anywhere close to inebriation. One of them even described my thumbnail history of the word “fuck” as “awesome”. But a complaint had been lodged, and they were obligated to interview me because there are two sides to every story (“No,” I protested, “there aren’t two sides, she’s completely right! I did use vulgar language! And I will fucking well continue to use it, not because I’m trying to offend but because that’s just the way I happen to talk…”). I volunteered to withdraw from the rest of the con if they had a problem with this, no hard feelings whatsoever, an option they unanimously rejected. As far as they were concerned, nothing had happened. The complaint was without merit. We shook hands. Declan even invited me to the after-con party on Sunday night, which I would have attended if not for a previous engagement. Everything’s cool.

I did, however, notice a shiny new sign outside the room when I showed up for my Sunday panel: CAUTION: ADULT LANGUAGE. Which, yes, I really should have grabbed and had framed.

Oh, and that guy who wanted me to sign his book? He waited for me, book in hand: the alternate-history anthology ReVisions, edited by Julie Czerneda. And the story I wrote for that antho, the one I belatedly scribbled my signature across? “A Word for Heathens.”

Which pretty much sums it up, leaving only the obligatory wail of anger and impotent frustration:


P.S. You won’t be hearing from me much the rest of the week. Maybe a comment or two, but probably no other posts unless I feel inspired to upload pictures of the local cats. I’m out at the annual island writing retreat; gotta read about twenty-five thousand words of other people’s writing every damn day, plus write two thousand words of my own.

Pray for me.


1Of course, the assumption that our society is free becomes more suspect with each passing day.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 at 7:43 am and is filed under On the Road, public interface. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

79 Responses to “The Con of Wrath.”


    society is only free, as long as you do not make use of that freedom.

    as for “swear” words, i say they are a legitimate expression of emotion.

  2. Flanders

    Might have been better off just saying, ” You know what? I swear a lot, and I’m not sure I can keep it reined in. If you’re worried about it, maybe you should just go now.”

    Monday-morning quarterbacking is the bestest, no?

  3. Flanders

    You could have gone on to say, “Obscenities just kind of bubble out of me like methane from the ocean floor. I mean, have you *read* any of my books?”

    Seeing as this was a panel about “Avatar,” though, probably not.

  4. Ken

    I’m immediately reminded of that scene from Mel Brook’s film High Anxiety:

    At a symposium of psychologists, Mel Brooks is at the podium, giving a speech on psycho-sexual behavior. Another doctor comes in with his two young kids in tow, and apologizes for not being able to find a sitter. Mel Brooks must now give the remainder of his speech using code words in place of sexual ones.

    If I could find a clip, I’d send the link. Maybe someone has better google-fu than I?

  5. Flanders

    [continues thread dominance]

    I have noticed that Canadians do tend to cuss more than the average English-speaking bear. At least, the Canadians I see on TV, and the few Canadians I’ve had personal acquaintance of , tend to be more comfortable dropping an F-bomb every now and then. Maybe Sprogmom was American.

  6. redindiangirl

    Fucking mindless breeders. My progeny were saying “fuck” from the time they could talk, although I had to tell them they couldn’t say it in front of their grandmothers, which my son hedged around by explaining to his grandma what it meant.

  7. Laur

    As signs go, that’s got to be one of the better ones out there. I mean, the only one that I can think of that would top it would be “CAUTION: BRAIN REQUIRED”.

    Something magical? Fucking wow. Good thing she left, otherwise you may have found out that maybe Twilight’s “vampires” are actually Pandora natives, on account of the sparkling bits.

  8. Nick N

    There’s also the irony of trying to have a PG panel about a PG-13 movie.

  9. ceolaf

    1) When chided for my use of strong language, I ask for a list of banned or objectionable words, or a reference to such a list. I have yet to get one.

    2) I also ask why they object to the phonemes (i.e. the sounds) rather than the ideas.

    3) And last, I usually point out that there are legal distinctions between “fleeting expletives” and explicit references to particular acts or substances. If the FCC and the courts can recognize the difference, surely we can, too.

    Of course, all of this fails to do anything other than satisfy my own sense of superiority because their objections are not rooted in the rational or reasonable.

    Yes, there are issues with the childed thinking that their children’s needs — or their preferences for their children’s environments — should be catered to by others. But that is really just a particular sort of example of the wider problem of people who think that their personal preferences should be binding on others, more generally.

    If I call my cable company or cell phone service provider to complain about a “fucking problem” or “shitty reception,” I am not being being insulting to the representative to whom I am speaking. Were I to insult them, any offense they take would be reasonable. But that is not the case.

    I venture to guess that had this women not had her children there, she still would have been bothered by your language, perhaps even lodging a complaint. The presence of he children, I think, simply make her willing to complain to your face, feeling justified enough to interrupt the conversation with her own sensitivities.

  10. Sheila

    I wonder if she took her kids to see the film. plenty of swearing in it.

  11. Catherine Crockett

    I thought it said, “Warning: Strong Language”. Diane Lacey told me she wants to get you a button that says that. Anyway, I’m running consuite at SFContario, and I have abso-fucking-lutely no problem with swearing. [Well, as long as I don’t have to stop, I don’t!]

  12. Hljóðlegur

    What hell is a “nipple moment,” people?

  13. keanani

    Fascinating how some parents have no problem with their children viewing violence on tv and at the theater, but sex, cussing and Spock’s colorful metaphors (double dumbass on you!) is so terribly offensive.

    More than @$$! & $#*+! utterances, I find it more offensive for some to speak of two loving human beings who happen to be of the same gender have no right to a legal, civil union akin to marriage, and that the American Pledge of Allegiance should have God in it.

    Sometimes it would be nice for the world to disappear…or at least some people and portions of it…

    “Say I’m crying
    I’m looking at what’s on T.V
    Pain and suffering
    And the struggle to be free…”
    ~ Disappear/INXS

  14. keanani

    Hljóðlegur Said: “What hell is a “nipple moment,” people?”

    I had two of those, but then it happened after I was bodysurfing. It involved lots of sand…

  15. Hljóðlegur

    HAAHAhahahahaha! I heard a completely different history of the word “fuck” from what Peter heard?

    My 11th grade English teacher claimed that the 1066 invasion caused English words (which are “germanic” in origin) to become low class, while the ruling French and their words for things became the polite versions, with the usage of some common words in English having the connotation of being reserved for discussion of non-human animal functions or actions.

    Hence, fickken, or whatever the pre-Norman word was, began to have the connotation of “what animals do to procreate,” unlike whatever we fancy French conquerers do to beget.

    Quick, who has the OED?

    or just make up a good story; I’ll enjoy that, too.

  16. Alex von Thorn

    What I have seen work well at other conventions is to run the literary panels as a mini-con inside the pop-culture con. For example, last time I was there, GenCon parked what amounted to a 2000-person science fiction convention into a back corner of a 30,000-person gaming convention; worked fine for all concerned. A little signage, a little marketing, a bit of targeting of programming, and voila. What I heard was too many panels with too few panelists, which resulted in spreading the available panelists across too many panel items, resulting in some imperfect fits.

    As to the content of your panel and what happened there, if I were on their concom, I’d be tempted to tell the complainer, “We investigated and found nothing happened at the panel that would be noteworthy if it had appeared on Canadian television or movies. In short, our investigation was a waste of our committee’s time. Kindly grow the hell up and do not use our committee to attempt to impose your puritanical preferences on our diverse community…” I mean I probably wouldn’t have the guts to actually say that, but I’d be tempted. 😉

  17. ScentOfViolets

    I have a daughter and her mother and I will occasionally cajole (force) her to watch our old classics from when we were young and hip college kids. We’ve found out that she likes “Life of Brian” and “Holy Grail”[1], but “Heathers” barely rises to mediocre. Funny thing that, but as a twenty-something, I never really noticed the steady stream of swearing in that last one, but now going on three decades past it’s initial release and watching it with my child I was uncomfortably aware of this fact. So much so I wondered if perhaps I should stop the presentation and move on to something else. Here’s the funny thing: after manning up and seeing it through to the end, I mentioned that most of my movie picks from back then didn’t have nearly that much profanity, and old people like myself didn’t really swear all that much back then. My daughter looked at me blankly for a second or two before she got it and then said that a) she didn’t notice a remarkable amount of four-letter words, and b) people in her school swore like that all the time.

    Sorry to ramble on here, but depending on the age of the kids, I’d wager that at least one of them were mortified to be seen with their progenitor during this episode[2]. If they were anything my kid, once they were out in the hallway they probably said something along the lines of “Mom, I can’t believe you embarrassed me like that.”

    [1]From cutting-edge college satire to fodder for middle school kids (my daughter was 11 when she first saw “Life of Brian”), that seems to be a natural and just progression for cultural artifacts. Another example: The Goths of my era, the folks who listened to “Echo and the Bunnymen” or “Depeche Mode”, well, these all about the cool types would probably be depressed to learn that “Goth” is just a middle-school style that people are expected grow out of by high school or else be considered a loser.

    [2]This also reminds me of another movie, “A Christmas Story” wherein:

    Ralphie letting slip the dreaded “Queen Mother of Dirty Words,” the F-dash-dash-dash word (after his father knocks a hubcap from his hands, spilling its contents, the lug nuts from a flat tire) and later, when asked where he’d heard the bad word, falsely blaming his friend, Schwartz, and not pointing out that his father utters the word daily. After Ralphie’s mother telephones Schwartz’s mother to inform her that her son had been responsible for passing along the bad word to Ralphie, we hear Schwartz getting what appears to be the thrashing of his life at the hands of his hysterical mother. To keep it censored, Billingsly says “fudge” on camera (the narration points out that he really didn’t say “fudge”).

    Mom may have just been keyed to go through a stereotyped behaviour no matter how hypocritical it may have been because that’s just “what good parents do”.

  18. keanani

    Peter said: “Someone has lodged a formal complaint about your language during the panel” and “that I’d also been charged with being inebriated while on the panel.” Wow you go to a con that you’re invited to speak and participate at, and someone can lodge a formal complaint about some aspect of your nature and charge you just because they don’t like the words you utilize…

    Why don’t people just take their ears, eyes, mouth and personal censorship away from whatever it is that offends them instead of trying to make others adapt to their ways…it’s about control, and it seems that controlling others is outweighing the freedom to be.

    Peter said: “…writers are well-known for being able to speak coherently while drunk.” But not able to write coherently while drunk. I have known people who can’t speak coherently but are not drunk. Just afraid of speaking.

    Man almighty, I realize this has been quite the titty morning. What with two nipples (Janet, Peter), (four if you count mine on this thread) and tits (Na’vi) referred to in this post, and on the morning news there was a man caught smuggling 18 “titi” into Mexico in his girdle…

  19. Sherry

    Hey, at least you didn’t bring up the octopus and clitoris story until _after_ she and her spawn had left the room. Not that she would know what a clitoris was (the woman, not the spawn).

    Frankly, the panel was awesome, and, had I known, I would have stolen the sign for you.

  20. ScentOfViolets

    Fascinating how some parents have no problem with their children viewing violence on tv and at the theater, but sex, cussing and Spock’s colorful metaphors (double dumbass on you!) is so terribly offensive.

    An odd thing that, but my daughter’s mother being something of a stereotyped liberal had no problem with her watching R-rated movies at a young age as long as it was just sex or homosex (or swearing or drugs and drug use and humor.) Violence of any but the most cartoon sort however is something that had to pass through a rigorous mommy-censor. No slasher flicks, iow.

    Just pointing out that standards may be changing in this respect, and possibly for the better.

  21. ScentOfViolets

    My comment is awaiting moderation, possibly because of length or links, so I’ll test that theory by reposting the gist:

    Sorry to ramble on here, but depending on the age of the kids, I’d wager that at least one of them were mortified to be seen with their progenitor during this episode of parental insanity[2]. If they were anything my kid, once they were out in the hallway they probably said something along the lines of “Mom, I can’t believe you embarrassed me like that.”

    I’m guessing that despite whatever Mom’s hysterics may have suggested, her tots were probably more traumatized by her behaviour then by Peter’s (rather mild) profanity – which they had in all probability had heard many times before. It’s even possible (I’d say quite possible) that this is less about exposure to age-inappropriate material and more about Peter not complying with her (arbitrary) demands.

  22. Allegra Sloman

    What a pointless and wrath inducing waste of time. The woman is daft, going around measuring the universe with a pocket ruler.

    Since I couldn’t hack the notion that my kids were going to learn to swear from me – and since I swear like I’m planning on getting paid for so doing – I taught them what everything meant and why it was offensive, and further taught them (hubby in agreement) that they could say any of those words at home. What’s the point of teaching your kids about free speech unless you mean it.

    They learned early, “Please don’t tease the mundanes”.

    The mindless compulsion of contemporary parents to shield their children from everything that isn’t sunshine and spun sugar blows my mind.

  23. V

    I intend to point a friend of mine at this who is an AMAZING parent who is raising a really thoughtful and intelligent kid, and who also happens to have spent a lot of time at conventions with his kid.

    I suspect he would have something to say about this . . .

    Frankly, the whole thing sounds idiotic, but what really bugs me is the “drunk” garbage. That makes me downright angry.

    Kids only latch onto swear words when they are used in a “forbidden”/”adult” way that allows them to posture, for criminy’s sake. I find myself thinking of that bit in 30 Rock where Liz wants to get her phone back because it has an “adult” picture on it, as she tells Kenneth. And he says “You mean like you’re voting or driving a car?”

    Reproducing doesn’t mean you check your brains at the door; in fact, raising functional critical thinkers should demand more of you, dammit. So don’t blame the lady for having kids, blame her for being a dumbass.

  24. Cybernetic Nomad

    The only time swearing by anyone (adults and kids) should be stopped is when it is used to verbally abuse someone.

    Other than that, there are plenty of appropriate times to swear: when you bang your thumb with a hammer, when you are at a loss for words to express just how awesome, or awful, or stupid something is, when you need to express just how angry you are about something (not angry at someone). Sure some people will use “made up” (frack) or “inoffensive” words (fudge) but the intent is exactly the same: express feelings about an extreme emotional or physical experience, usually while experiencing it, and being a little less eloquent than at other times.

    Adults are given license to swear for all of these reasons. Why not kids?

    The only things I think kids should learn not to say are

    1) Lies. I have no illusion about that. But if you lie, make sure it’s convincing and hide any evidence that will contradict you.

    2) Offensive things about people (“Muslim/gay/black people should all die/be in prison/go away”) which unfortunately can be said by kids who don’t even know what they really mean, but there’s no swearing in that sentence, so it’s OK for anyone to say it, right?
    Some people want to raise kids who don’t swear. I’d rather raise a kid who swears but will accept anyone whatever their ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, etc… and who won’t use swearing to verbally abuse people.

  25. Miss Lynx

    I’m a parent of a young child (he’ll be three next week), and I’m appalled by that woman’s behavior.

    First of all, having kids does not mean that the world suddenly revolves around you – there are going to be some environments that aren’t great for them, and it’s the parent’s responsibility to notice that and remove them from that environment, not the rest of the world’s responsibility to change because someone happened to walk in with their kids.

    Second, any kid that’s old enough to be in school has probably heard the word “fuck” plenty of times already, and most of them probably use it freely themselves when their parents aren’t listening. Whoever thinks that kids’ virgin ears need to be protected from profanity at all costs has either never bothered to eavesdrop at a schoolyard, and/or has conveniently forgotten their own childhood (that is, if it took place any time from the 1960s onward).

    It’s funny – I think people made much less of a big deal about swearing around kids when I was young than they do now. I remember asking my mom to explain what “Up against the wall, motherfucker” meant when I was about 6 or 7 — and why the Jefferson Airplane could say it in a song, but had to write “Up against the wall, Fred” on the lyric sheet.

  26. keanani

    Peter revealed: “One of them even described my thumbnail history of the word ‘fuck’ as ‘awesome’.”

    Holy fothermucker, Dude, that’s fucking awesome.

    Peter said: “Well, no, of course not, but the issue is there were children in the room.”

    You know, even if there were no children physically in the room, there would still be “children” in the room. Some adults are still very much children, regardless of the virginity of their aural predilections.

    Peter said: “Pray for me” because he has “…gotta read about twenty-five thousand words of other people’s writing every damn day, plus write two thousand words of my own.”

    Pray? For you? Why? What for? You get to read and write a whole shit load of words, are free to get inebriated AND talk at the same time, doesn’t matter if you are coherent or not, and you are free to say whatever the asskicking hell you want, speaking naturally unfuckenrestrained…magical atmospheric nippled titty’s or not.

  27. Garth Spencer

    Mr. Watts – Some people are insistent on trivialities, apparently because they do not or cannot control anything really important in their lives. I see a concentration of this sort of neurotic behaviour at conventions. – GS

  28. O.Schaefer

    Best thing I’ve read all day. Only could have been better if I’d seen it live.

  29. angusm

    Simple. Just begin every future appearance with “Listen up, you a******s, I have to warn you that I curse like a m**********r, and if you think you aren’t going to be able to handle that s**t, then all you f*****s should p**s off right f*****g now. I’ll give you c***s sixty seconds to clear the room, and then I’m gonna let her rip. Got that?”

  30. proudinjun

    My philosophy is… You choose to stand where you are. Don’t come into MY house (or MY panel) and tell me how to speak. Lodge a complaint? You MUST be fucking kidding me!!! I’ve raised 3 kids, and the only time they check their language is when their Grandmother is around. That’s out of a sense of respect, not out of a sense of shame. Self expression is one of their constitutional rights, and they’ll damn well practice that right. Please don’t tag all parents as idiots. Some of us have done okay.

  31. The Doctor

    Ceiling Cat help me, I actually reined in my language for a bit there.

    I’ll probably write a reply to your actual post later, but that right there made me add this to my Firefox Scrapbook, in the folder “Things to re-read when I feel like suck-starting a shotgun.”

    Thank you for making today better.

  32. The Doctor

    @angusm: I’d love to see that.

    There’s a funny thing about life: no one, at any time, has the right to not be offended.

    I think the mother in the audience has the right to haul her kids out because you swear; she’s responsible for them and that’s her perogative. Complaining about your language to the con staff was way out of line, however. She probably couldn’t get them to take her seriously until she made up the bit about inhebriation while on stage. Bullshit complaints make for wonderful role models for kids.

    I’m guessing, and correct me if I’m wrong, that there weren’t all that many little ones at the con. Lots of adults and not many kids tends to crank up the chances of hearing off-color language, and common sense (if it wasn’t a fucking superpower these days) would dictate that maybe stuff she didn’t approve of would be voiced.

    I wish I could see the look on her face the first time her kids go off to school and bring home a few extra vocabulary words. Other kids, not adults, tend to be the worst influences on kids because they can actually relate to and model the actions of their peer group. There are fifth graders out there whose language can make a Marine who’s done two tours in Afghanistan blush.

  33. loonquawl

    So there was a woman who went to a panel with multiple speakers, disagreed strongly with the way of talking of one of those speakers, did something about it, the organizers tried to get behind the truth of the matter, acertained it, and then posted a sign to prevent further people from hearing what they didn’t want to.

    I’m still waiting for the punchline.

    Imagine she would have sat through your cussing, squirming in her seat and sometimes belatedly covering the ears of her kids. That would have been one hell of a good example for backbone.

    … and you told her, that while the actual succession of phonemes was traceable for a neigh-millenium, the last hundred years had seen the meaning behind this shift to something unacceptable in gentle speech? And that proves what? Hitting children in the face with gusto for speaking up is quite traceable too, and has seen a recent shift in societal value. When i last punched my child i was nearly attacked. Righteous pricks wouldn’t even listen to my historical exposeé. Weird, that.

    And “human larvae”? Get a fucking grip; it is nice to have that techno-emo-talk in your books, but not in RL.

  34. Peter Watts

    I’m still waiting for the punchline.

    The idiot woman was the punchline. The primary one, anyway. You might do in a pinch, I suppose.

    … and you told her, that while the actual succession of phonemes was traceable for a neigh-millenium, the last hundred years had seen the meaning behind this shift to something unacceptable in gentle speech?

    Something unacceptable in prudish speech. Don’t confuse the two. I know a shitload of kind-hearted, sweet-natured, utterly gentle souls who say “fuck” at least three times before breakfast.

    And that proves what?

    That most of us aren’t prudes, I suppose.

    And “human larvae”? Get a fucking grip; it is nice to have that techno-emo-talk in your books, but not in RL.

    “Get a grip”? Really? You expect us to take your perspective seriously on matters of common slang and you can’t even stomach the word “larvae”?

    Dude/tte, there are many supportive online communities for parents and children and the merely childlike — all full of unicorns and fluffy kittens — where the merest naughty word is scrubbed away with rainbow erasers. I’m sure you can find your way back.

  35. proudinjun


  36. Hljóðlegur

    Children, children, if you can’t play nice ….

  37. Catherine Crockett

    The octopus and clitoris story?

  38. Peter Watts

    I’ll tell you when we get together for lunch. In the meantime, suffice to say that octopi have precise and voluntary control over each individual sucker studding each of their eight arms.

  39. Flanders

    Catherine Crockett, on July 21st, 2010 at 10:17 am Said:
    The octopus and clitoris story?

    Peter Watts, on July 21st, 2010 at 12:01 pm Said:
    I’ll tell you when we get together for lunch.

    …now that’s a pickup line if I ever heard one.

  40. Hljóðlegur

    A: The octopus and clitoris story?
    B: I’ll tell you when we get together for lunch.
    …now that’s a pickup line if I ever heard one.

    Har har har! You missed one:

    You know, baby, …octopi have precise and voluntary control over each individual sucker studding each of their eight arms.

    Guranteed panty-dampener, that is.

  41. Außenseiter


    One’s got to admire the Japanese. If you think you’re jaded and nothing can shock you anymore…

  42. Megaptera

    Do you really think this wouldn’t have happened at a convention whose focus is more literary, though? That’s flawed logic… both media and literary cons have kids and parents attending, and there’s always the possibility that someone will swear in front of them. The label ‘literary’ doesn’t mean people are going to be more free with their speech and accepting of free speech.

  43. Hljóðlegur


    Tis true. Otoh, noticing the eroticism of the octopus isn’t specifically Japanese, because I noticed it and wondered what the heck my reaction was all about well before I ever saw a copy of “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.”

    No matter how bizarre a thing is, someone finds it sexy. Right now – tell me I’m wrong!. – someone is having sex with a three-slot toaster.

    @proudinjun: With their penis!

  44. keanani

    Peter concluded after nipplegate: “…leaving only the obligatory wail of anger and impotent frustration…”

    Or, you could cry and sing, with fierce, soulful determination~

  45. Stephen C.

    We live in where we have to cater to the lowest common denominator of P.C. If the lady was offended she should have left. IMO. it’s wrong of her to try and project her opinion of acceptable language upon others. Even if there were children in the room, maybe their parents had no problems.

    I think the convention had to protect itself by speaking to you. It’s unfortunate but turn on your TV and try and watch a TV show without a warning of some sort.

    As for a Media Con wanting Lit guests. It’s about time, thank them. Some people want to inform fans that TV shows aren’t just made up. They involve scripts, written from writers. Who get ideas from other writers, who may have written a novel. Let’s expand the universe and stop being in little private cliques.

  46. Declan Dennehy

    It was actually meeting you at a panel on Patenting Genetics at Toronto Trek 14 or 15 that lead me to pick up your books originally.

    Sadly, someone complains. We have to at least follow up. Hell I had ducked in early after an initial complaint. I was enjoying the panel thoroughly and caught the air comment just before my cell phone went off calling me to some Con duties. The panel was going great. I just wish I had made the video game panel you were on.

    And if you want a copy of that sign to frame, I think I might be able to arrange it. Of course, there is always next years sign.

  47. Hljóðlegur

    That’s a surprise!

    NOTE: OED says that the etym of “fuck” is unknown. Although it looks similar to the germanic “ficken” and the middle english “fuken,” no direct relationship can be established. Earliest reference in print is 1503, Dunbar Poems, Be his feiris he wald haue fukkit.

    So my English teacher didn’t know, was making it up, just liked a good story or whatever.

    The OED also says, “For centuries, and still by the great majority, regarded as a taboo word; until recent times not often recorded in print but frequent in coarse speech.”

  48. Tom

    I’d love to hear your thumbnail on the history of fuck. I’d imagine it’s hard to find alot of it written as so many are offended by it that others censor it. *sigh* Like petticoats on piano legs…

    I’ve always been more offended by f*ck then fuck. f*ck means someone thinks I’m not capable of dealing with the real thing. How dare they assume I’m a moron!

    Finally as a parent, I’d probably just quietly leave when dealing with someone using language I didn’t want them to hear. Better then pointing it out front & center. If my kids see some porn, I might point out that some people like to be naked & move on, no big deal.

  49. Flanders

    Interesting note: The phrase “fucked up” worked its way into the German lexicon during the American occupation after WWII. However, Germans adapted it, using it only as the past participle, i.e. “Das ist upgefucked.”

    The preexisting coarse term for sexual congress, “ficken,” is used in almost every other context, and has as many different nuances of meaning as its English counterpart.

    Fun fact!

  50. Tom

    Thinking about that monday morning quarterback thing…

    So this woman brings her kids in, hears some words she doesn’t like and threatens you that she will leave if you don’t alter your behavior. And uses her kids as an excuse to do so. And she’s assuming her presence is worth watering down the conversation for. Finally, she tried to make you suffer for it reporting to the officials. It sounds like as part of her report, she infer that you were drunk, possibly lying in the process.

    Damn, this bothers me too much. I’m sure this woman will never be bothered by what she did and would ignore any of the above I wrote as it applies to here while agreeing with it all.

  51. Brycemeister

    As a Canadian, I find myself not the least way patriotic. Us Canucks are, as far as nations go, a bunch of overly polite newbie shits who, as you so succintly described, don’t understand there’s a world out there, and it aint nice nor pretty. We’ve got all these retards up here, who can’t even figure out to get the fuck out of the way of a bike, in the bike lane-and, because mommy and daddy protected their sensitive talcumed posteriors, have an incredible sense of entitlement, bordering on ridiculous.

    Dunno what it’s like in America. The problem with people like that is, as the person above wrote-they don’t get it, and they likely never will.

    Then again, I also point out to anyone who will listen “Obviously, evolution is the big thing, y’know? It’s where it’s at-and someday, I’d like to see us take a stab at it.”

  52. loonquawl

    @Peter Watts
    From the utter failure to realize my point, i can now at least see where somebody might think you to be inebriated.

  53. Peter Watts


    Perhaps you mean your point about changing community standards, when you characterized the use of salty language as being analogous to punching someone in the face?

    No, I didn’t fail to realize it. It was just so fucking stupid I didn’t think it deserved an explicit rejoinder.

  54. loonquawl

    @Peter Watts
    Nah, that wasn’t it;
    btw, that point wasn’t about punching just anybody, it was about the changing community standard as concerning violence of authority figure vs. children, and yeah, of course that was reductio ad absurdum, but reductio ad nihil makes so much fucking less sense.

    My point was this: While i fully support, and myself practice, the ‘Whohoo! look at that guy, what a prude/theist/creationist/capitalism-apologist’ – approach to voicing my discontent with other people’s lack of insight, and probably would have disliked the woman in question, might also have found her to be a stand-alone comedic element, the _process_ involving you and her did not have, to me, the same kind of perplexety-and-laughter instilling quality it seemingly had to you. And that was so because she stood up for her beliefs (quite literally), yet in a non-violent, non-backstabbing manner, then the convention people stood up for their cliéntel (and promptly sat back down again) and then… nothing else happend. Which for me was a non-starter humorwise.
    I can, from a Machiavellian standpoint, appreciate that you would rather have dumb people spineless too, but in my non-Machiavellian usual (i shall shy from the word normal) mode, i would much rather have some spine, at least, if the head is missing.

  55. Peter Watts

    We may not be that far apart, then. I fully support people’s right to remove themselves from situations they find objectionable; what I found objectionable was the further step of lodging a formal complaint because I hadn’t acquiesced to her demands. At that point the issue graduates from “I didn’t like that” to “he didn’t obey me”, and that crossed a line.

    As to the humor level, well, mileage obviously varies. I didn’t find it personally hilarious so much as surreal in the you-gotta-be-fucking-kidding mode. Still, hilarious, chuckleworthy, or even utterly bereft of humor, it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d ever encountered at a con before; to me, that made it worth talking about.

  56. Außenseiter

    There are actually blokes out their who bonk their cars. Usually the exhaust tube. That’s freaky.

  57. Sheila

    Like petticoats on piano legs…

    folklore, not true.

  58. proudinjun

    @Hljóðlegur… Got to bring it back to the penis again, aye? And even worse, you’re dragging me there with you. I was hoping that you wouldn’t tag me as a necrophiliac beatial tentacle-porn size-fetishist after my confession of peeking at your link, but such is life. We’ve got men having sex with a three-slot toaster and bonking car exhausts. What next? Knot-holes in privacy fences? Hope the neighbor isn’t looking out their window. Or how about a go at the neighbor’s dog? Is that beastial enough? Hmmm, how about using that vacuum salesman’s appliance for something besides cleaning the floors. That would be one way to stop those annoying door-to-door salesmen!! Dude, you’re just not right!!! By the way, how’s that brick lobbing going? Have you honed that art to perfection yet? You’re too funny!

  59. Sheila

    We’ve got men having sex with a three-slot toaster and bonking car exhausts. What next? [bonk] [bonk] [bonk] […]

    (imagine the bonks as the error notification sounds from a mac)

    every time you picture a new method for masturbation we have spontaneous fetish porn website generation. please, think of the service providers.

  60. Hljóðlegur

    Sheila says: every time you picture a new method for masturbation we have spontaneous fetish porn website generation. please, think of the service providers

    Important info, Sheila, thanks! Kewl. When I imagine it, or when someone commenting on this blog, or when someone anywhere imagines it? Oh, man, it’s like, it’s like, DON’T THINK OF PURPLE ELEPHANTS… once suggested, you can’t stop. *errorbonknoise* See?

    @ proudinjun Dude, you’re just not right!

    I know, I know. So I try to enjoy the uncorrectable kinks in my essential fiber.

    What next? Knot-holes in privacy fences?

    In fact, as you read this, Peter is laboriously using a hand-drill to make a peep hole into the ladies’ room so he can see the pink Rubinesque bottoms leaping off the can as he flickers the lights. *errorbonknoise* Damnitall!

    RE: brick-lobbing, I am now bricking delivery men from the upstairs window of my house. Better prey is more fun, and there’s alotta meat on a UPS guy.

    *errorbonknoise* Okay, that wasn’t me. Fess up, someone has a masturbation fetish about chunky UPS men? *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* Okay, stop it, you guys, seriously.

    Aussenseiter: I have seen one of those sites, lots of info about how to safely make love to the tailpipe on a Corvair, was it? I have to say, even my fiber is less kinked than that, but I loved the idea. Naturally, if you really loved that car, you’d want to take it to the next level, right, but as a species, you’re not compatible.
    Step 1: obtain one red pacific octopus.
    Step 2: stuff into the tailpipe.
    Step 3: obtain one can of *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise* *errorbonknoise*

    Fine, fine, I quit; I know when I’m licked…*errorbonknoise*

  61. Marna Nightingale

    And, how, pray tell, does she plan to teach the little darlings that Certain Words are Not Used – at least at Certain Times – if she never exposes them to people using them appropriately and otherwise?

    Myself, I would I think refrain from teaching youngsters of that age – or any but especially that one – that if they want to watch Mommy’s head explode for HOURS, one syllable will do it.

    But I like a quiet life, me.

  62. rayp

    I feel fully vindicated in my perception of you as the new Harlan Ellison.

  63. Cybernetic Nomad


    Unlike Harlan, I have never seen nor heard of Peter acting in an inappropriate manner.

  64. Peter Watts

    Yeah, I was kind of wondering how to take that. Am I the new Harlan Ellison who wins all the awards, or the new Harlan Ellison who brazenly grabs women’s boobs on stage and is a dick to people in elevators?

    Or maybe I’m just the new Harlan Ellison who says “fuck” a lot. I guess that would fit.

  65. Hljóðlegur

    @rayp, I was thinking of Ellison, too, but didn’t have the guts to say it?

    @Peter – the Harlan Ellison who gets both die-hard fans and enemies by taking things most people think silently to themselves and actually saying them out loud, making an interesting narrative of the results, and offering it publicly with very little self-flattering filtering.

    “So when confronted with 4 security redshirts, I didn’t try to Mr. Smooth my way out, I argued the complaint point by point, because I was in the right…..”
    My fave was: “So, while dining with a beautiful woman in a cozy restaurant, I decided to spritz some pepperspray into a napkin for demonstration purposes…” What a super story!

    It’s like Harlan’s story about mailing bricks et cetera postage-due to some editor he was feuding with. ( He was in the right, dammit, the contract said so! ) As the audience, you’re biting your fingertips and subvocalizing, “ohnoohnoohnoohno” because you can see this is going to escalate, there is nothing you can do, and some version of this REALLY HAPPENED.

    It’s just gripping.

    If you ‘re feeling random boobs in elevators, that is between you and the boobs, but the principle of being just a little outrageous and publically self-reporting it is something you and Mr. Ellison do share. And you do say “fuck” alot. Funny, I have listened to hours of Ellison speak, and I can’t remember if he does as well?

    Go ahead and flame me, guys, but it’s what I really think.

  66. Flanders

    @Peter–can you be the Harlan Ellison who gets into a decades-long, expensive, damaging, and ultimately meaningless public spat with Gary Groth? I really want to live through that again.

  67. Uplinktruck


    Forget loonquawl. That was a funny situation and an even better telling of the story. I’m passing this one along to some of the not so straight laced people that I know will appreciate it.


  68. Joseph Hertzlinger

    Lodging a formal complaint is tantamount to stating that you get to order the rest of the world how to behave, that your personal outrage is legitimate grounds for censure; and really, in a free society, is there an inalienable right to never be offended?

    Speaking as a wingnut, all I have to say is: That’s our line.

  69. keanani

    Peter Said: “You won’t be hearing from me much the rest of the week. Maybe a comment or two, but probably no other posts unless I feel inspired to upload pictures of the local cats.” 🙂

    …or the island litter box of the local kitty’s…

  70. Wargonzola

    We’ve got men having sex with a three-slot toaster and bonking car exhausts. What next?

    There’s nothing new under the sun, (SNL invented the Mercury Mistress waaay back in the day) but what’s next is apparently dragons bonking cars:
    I wish the NSFW warning could go without saying, but I don’t like the idea of someone clicking on that expecting something non-horrifying.

  71. Roddy Graham

    This is quite a depressing discussion to read.

    Everybody is going on about “no inalienable right not to be offended”, and about people imposing their standards on others, but what about this:

    * if you swear in public you coarsen the public discourse – civil society becomes less civil
    * adjectival swearing is lazy, and profoundly, lumberingly, tediously unimaginative
    * swearing ad libitum puts you in the company of the mouthbreathing unthinkers of the world

  72. Peter Watts

    Roddy, I can’t overstate how profoundly I disagree with every element of your whole fucking argument. Here’s why:

    if you swear in public you coarsen the public discourse – civil society becomes less civil

    Dude, what do you even mean by “civil”? If I were to use the word “zounds” instead of “motherfucker”, I suspect that you’d regard my choice as the more “civil” one — yet back in the day when “cunt” was considered a perfectly unremarkable noun, the use of “zounds” (a contraction of “God’s wounds”) was considered downright scandalous. Do you really think that the community standards of twenty-first-century North American church-goers are any less arbitrary, any less stupid, than those of any other era or group? Or is it your belief that we should always respect community standards regardless, simply because they are community standards? (In which case you’d have made a fine nigger-catcher, back in the day…)

    While you lament the coarseness of speech here on the ‘crawl, the Tea Partiers, the Palinites, the Becks and Limbaughs of the world spew their genteel hatred and their idiotic falsehoods, never once lowering themselves to using the “f-word” you find so offensive (at least, not in public); and yet their words are those that advocate everything from deregulation of the oil industry to repeal of the 14th Amendment. If you’d rather harp on me while these assholes throw the world on its side, that’s your prerogative; but you’d be better off judging a society’s civility on the basis of the ideologies it promotes, rather than slang you happen to find offensive for no better reason than that you were raised to find it offensive because, you know, it’s offensive. And it’s not used in polite society. And it “coarsens discourse”.

    I would define a civil society as one in which people treated each other and their environment well; a coarse one as the kind of fear-based ignorance-glorifying outgroup-hating one we have today. Those are the measures of a society. Next to those criteria, F-bomb usage doesn’t matter a good goddamn.

    I mean, give me a fucking break.

    adjectival swearing is lazy, and profoundly, lumberingly, tediously unimaginative

    It can be. But so can prudish and expletive-free language (sit through a few Baptist church services if you’re not convinced), so that’s hardly an indictment of swearing. On the other hand adjectival swearing does add information to the sentence: Give me a fucking break connotes far greater intensity than give me a break, for instance. It conveys that additional layer of contempt I feel for facile and irrational statements. Words like fucking and cunt-rag also serve as very effective expressions of anger.

    I’m a writer by profession. I write both fiction and technicalia, and my livelihood literally depends on the effectiveness with which I use words. I by no means have an impoverished vocabulary; so when I choose to employ profanity, you can rest assured it is with considered cause. Perhaps I simply have a lot of things to express anger about; but then again, given the ubiquity of the aforementioned Becks and Palins and their ilk, and the idiocy of a public that still largely can’t grasp the simple reality of evolution, I’d have to be a fucking idiot to not feel that way.

    swearing ad libitum puts you in the company of the mouthbreathing unthinkers of the world

    Absolutely not, Roddy. Those most generally opposed to foul language tend to be social conservatives; compared to those on the other end of the spectrum this demographic harbours stronger religious superstitions, tends to be more anti-intelligence in outlook and most reflexively obsequious in the face of authority, and tends to be less educated. The vast majority of folks I know in academia — professors, grad students, researchers of all stripes — use profanity casually, routinely, and without a second thought.

    If you’re looking for unthinking mouthbreathers, you’re way more likely to find them in the pews than in the lab.

  73. Hljóðlegur

    Testify, brother Pete! Can I hear an Amen, brothers and sisters? Amen says the crowd.

    I so enjoyed the above impassioned fire-n-brimstone sermon on the use of the word “fuck” and “cunt-rag.” No sarcasm here; I really enjoyed it. Can you see Dr. Watts in liturgical robes, at the alter, ignescent, pounding his fists, getting the message out? It made my day better somehow, that someone was defending something as ephemeral as the use of the taboo word. Not sure why.

    I enjoyed it not because I agree, either. I disagree with both brother Roddy and brother Peter that cursing is necessarily attached to some particular level of intellect or civilization, because cussing doesn’t exist solely for that reason. I don’t even think I agree that cursing is the right way to behave in most circumstances, and wish I did less cursing myself.

    Here’s what I think: We should be asking ourselves what it’s for. What does saying the word “motherfucker,” for instance, do for the speaker or the listener – what does it communicate on how many different levels about the speaker, listener and message?

    And thanks to Brothers Roddy and Peter for offering up the ideas. Can I get an “Amen!”? 🙂

  74. Sheila


    Here’s what I think: We should be asking ourselves what it’s for. What does saying the word “motherfucker,” for instance, do for the speaker or the listener – what does it communicate on how many different levels about the speaker, listener and message?

    I do often wonder what is the cognitive and behavioral basis for swearing. It is some out of channel language pathway alternate to the normal one. When people have some forms of aphasia, they can still communicate via swearing. Why is that? How can it be used? Can I make a language out of it? But if I do, will it get laid down in the other part of the brain and discontinue its existence as swearing?

    I teased my mom about all of this the other day when she posted a bible verse about swearing as her status.

  75. Hljóðlegur

    It is some out of channel language pathway alternate to the normal one.

    You know, I think it is? I got this abstract with a 2 second google; I have never heard of the journal, though. Isn’t there a J of Neuropsych or something we shoud be checking for review articles?

    Brain Research Reviews
    Volume 31, Issue 1, December 1999, Pages 83-104
    doi:10.1016/S0165-0173(99)00060-0 | How to Cite or Link Using DOI
    Copyright © 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved Cited By in Scopus (26)
    Permissions & Reprints

    Full-length review
    Expletives: neurolinguistic and neurobehavioral perspectives on swearing

    D. Van Lanckera, b, * and J. L. Cummingsc

    a Department of Neurology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    b Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, New York University, School of Education, 719 Broadway, Suite 200, New York, NY, 10003, USA

    c Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

    Accepted 5 October 1999. Available online 27 December 1999.

    Severe aphasia, adult left hemispherectomy, Gilles de la Tourette syndrome (GTS), and other neurological disorders have in common an increased use of swearwords. There are shared linguistic features in common across these language behaviors, as well as important differences. We explore the nature of swearing in normal human communication, and then compare the clinical presentations of selectively preserved, impaired and augmented swearing. These neurolinguistic observations, considered along with related neuroanatomical and neurochemical information, provide the basis for considering the neurobiological foundation of various types of swearing behaviors.

    Author Keywords: Neural basis of behavior cursing; Aphasia; Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome; Coprolalia; Basal ganglia; Limbic system

  76. Sheila

    You know, I think it is? I got this abstract with a 2 second google […]

    that provides some handy keywords. swearing seems to fall under formulaic speech, and doing a search on formulaic speech aphasia pulls up nice results.

    Formulaic language and the lexicon By Alison Wray

    I’m distracted enough as it is so I haven’t read all the parts in the result (I seriously abuse ‘to read’ bookmarklets)

  77. Ian

    Thanks for the aphasia/swearing information! I grew up never swearing because it gave me no emotional release. People around me were actually offended because despite never demanding they change their language, and never being offended myself, they felt influenced by my failure to swear.
    Since being hit with “mild aphasia” from ciguatera neurotoxins, I now swear so often I forget to stop when speaking to my mother. Swearing now works as an emotional release and an emotional intensifier in language for me. I suspect I didn’t use the extra channel before aphasia, but my brain went for it when the regulars channels were broken.

    There’s enough linksfor me to write a podcast story on neurloginguistics and swearing, thanks again!

  78. blip

    >> swearing is lazy and unimaginative

    There is something to be said about that. Swear words are like drugs: you always need more to get the same effect.

  79. Sheila

    @Ian, please post the podcast address to the forums. sounds interesting.