It takes but a tiny linguistic tweak to make something cute. To make a sentence sound like spoken graffiti, like rocks tossed at a ceiling fan, like the moment when a math equation finally makes sense.
For instance, the email I received wherein a friend suggested a mutual acquaintance be screened for phuckphace syndrome. Man, that made me laugh. I swirled those words like marbles in my palm, while shopping for groceries, preparing a tart tatin, raising a glass of chardonnay, during a taxi ride across town. The swap of ph installed humour where perhaps only vulgarity would have lain. And, not to make everything too, too intellectual, phuckphace makes me laugh my head off like a snickering little kid. It’s just so funny, and so rude!
I love language. Small, plain words and big ones, too. Words with several spellings where your choice reveals something about your character–do you go for the technically correct yet slightly outmoded version simply to prove you know better than the masses? Do you demonstrate your support for spelling reform by dropping those extra letters? Do you jumble the letters and use the wrong ones and create a dreadful mess? Do you really throw your weight behind your error, and try to fuck it up as much as you can? Do you abbreviate with single letters, subbing numbers and symbols for words, text message-style?
I remember my vocabulary expanding at an equal rate in two languages. At eleven, I adopted the F-word at the same time as we covered animal nomenclature in French class. For weeks, my favourite gag was to shout phoque in a loud, proud tone, then flutter a hand to my chest in mock dismay. “Mais, madame,” I would exclaim, “j’ai seulement dit le mot pour ‘seal’ en francais!”
I love words spray painted on walls. It made my day when some local vandal tagged fences along my street with a big, navy-blue “c-u-n-t”. A pair of ladies stood with pails and sponges, hips canted, tongues tsk-ing, scrubbing the paint into a froth and debating whether their gate would require sanding. I smiled as I passed them, and remarked, “Hey, at least yours isn’t the only cunt on the block!” I’m not sure whether they got the double-entendre, or if they were stuck at the part where I said the word aloud. A swear word can be tweaked into humour; graffiti can make an ugly building attractive; a famous person can make an ugly garment hot.
Conversely, adding “face” to anything makes it tenfold more offensive. One sodden evening, D. cast around for something to catch his piping hot slice of pizza. “I need something to eat my pizza with,” he said, searching cupboards for a napkin or plate and juggling the slice from hand to hand. “Why don’t you use your face,” I kindly suggested.
This retort nearly killed A., our hostess, as she struggled around a pizza-clogged laugh. It also laid the groundwork for a slew of spin-off jokes, which she and I deftly applied to just about any situation. The best part? Even months later, it was still funny. At least, we thought so. When a member of her comedy troupe grew noticeably pregnant, a table of ladies sneered and crooked their lips in disdain. “Ugh,” said one to another, “this show sucks. And, that one’s pregnant!” Recounting this to me, A. was a bit down about the scene, upset that someone would discount a woman’s talent simply because she was going to have a child, like a pariah to be hidden in a hut till her condition went away.
“Well, you know what they were thinking, don’t you,” I consoled. “They looked at her and thought, ‘Oh my gawd, that one must’ve used her vagina instead of her face!'”
See? Still funny.