“By the first world war, soldiers swore so much that the word “fucking” came to function as no more than “a warning that a noun is coming”. “
Guardian review of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr
i would like to take this opportunity to present my headcanon about that infamous “language!” line: steve and the howlies had such dirty mouths that they had to be constantly reminded to clean it up for the reporters that followed them around. so steve heard a swear word over the radio and had a kneejerk stop that we’re being filmed for the folks back home reaction.
in other words, he said “language” not because he never swears, but because if he’s not on guard he swears way too much. :D
“the word ‘fucking’ came to function as no more than “a warning that a noun is coming”
And the interesting thing about actually dealing with people who do swear to that degree, which I have, is that eventually your brain completely tunes the word fucking out.
You basically don’t hear it. It becomes unimportant noise.
I was actually just talking to someone last night about how when I was a kid (the 80s), no one said “fuck” or “shit,” ever, but people casually tossed slurs around like nobody’s business. Now people use “fuck” and “shit” like punctuation, but slurs are increasingly taboo–and that’s exactly how it should fucking be.
You can tell we were kids in the 80s in different places…
OH MY GOD I FOUND THE POST AGAIN!!
When I first saw this post go around, I was traveling, but I had something I wanted to say and I could never find it again.
Okay, so, this post isn’t wrong, but what the original gifset doesn’t take into account (though some of the commentary touches on it) is how incredibly situational swearing was in the 1940s.
So, yes, men swore a lot – around other guys, in certain contexts. But they were very heavily conditioned not to swear around women and kids.
I think this might be one of the big reasons why a lot of people my age and younger got the idea that people didn’t swear during the 1940s. Most of us fell into the “kid” or “female” categories, or both, and guys our grandparents’ age would never, ever say “fuck” around us. And those words weren’t usually used in media of the era for similar reasons, so we got the idea that people that age were very prim and polite, when it’s more that they were prim and polite around us.
I remember as a young woman walking in on groups of old blue-collar guys talking among themselves, with profanity flying freely, and then noticing me in the room and immediately clamming up and apologizing to me for swearing around me.
There’s a bit in the Douglas Bader biography I was reading a month or so ago that demonstrates this in a WWII context. According to the book, the squadron pilots swore freely in their radio chatter to each other in the field, to the amusement of the WAAFs (female service personnel) who were listening to the radio in an ops room as they moved counters around on maps (much like we see Peggy doing in TFA) and the embarrassment of their commander:
After awhile, to the regret of the Beauty Chorus [the WAAFs], Woodhall disconnected the loud-speaker in the Ops Room, feeling that some of the battle comments were too ripe even for the most sophisticated WAAFs. (“They laugh, you know,” he said, “but dammit I get so embarrassed.”)
… so, right, even in the middle of a war, pilots saying “fuck” over the radio was something the female staff had to be insulated from.
Say what you will about the baby boomers, but they largely demolished that wall between “swearing around men” and “swearing around women”. Most guys my dad’s age don’t do it anymore, at least not to that much of an extreme. By the time you get to my generation (I’m 40), people might swear or they might not, and they usually don’t swear around young kids, but swearing around men but not around women is just not a thing anyone does anymore. At least I don’t know anyone who does it specifically and consistently who’s not elderly.
It’s not really an individual-sexism thing, more of a socialization thing – sexist on a societal level, sure, but I don’t think Steve would balk at swearing around women, kids, or in a refined or professional social setting because he’s a sexist or a prude. It’s just something you didn’t do as a polite person. Like blowing your nose on the tablecloth in a fancy restaurant. I think he could and probably would unlearn that, but it’d take time.
So, to me, about half the examples up there work just fine (“now why the fuck would I do that” to Bucky – absolutely! Or “Is everything a fucking joke to you?” to Tony) and several jar horribly, because they’re not the right context (like the “there’s only one God ma’am” bit – noooo, you aren’t going to get “fuck” and “ma’am” in the same sentence! not for a Steve fresh from the 1940s! – or “we have our fucking orders” … in a polite, professional context like that, no). Steve would never. Or, I should say, someone from Steve’s culture – who tries in general to be a polite and respectful person, as Steve does – would never. Maybe after he’s had a few years to acclimatize to the more relaxed social climate surrounding swearing in the 21st century, but I think it’d take him awhile; he would sort of instinctively jerk himself back from doing it in all but the most relaxed sort of “palling around with your teammates” environment.
(Headcanon-wise, I could see Steve very quickly incorporating someone like Natasha into his mental schemata as “one of the guys” – not consciously, but on a subconscious level: like, he doesn’t hold back from swearing around her pretty quickly – but taking a LOT longer with someone like Wanda or Pepper.)
tl;dr disclaimer: not a historian, was not alive in the 1940s, so please correct me if I’m wrong on things here.
I’m so glad someone said this, because this is something I think a lot of the Steve meta about swearing misses. Situational profanity, exactly! He wouldn’t cuss in anything he’d consider ‘polite company’, because you didn’t do that. I’m absolutely sure he’s capable of having a very foul mouth in some circumstances (he was a soldier who grew up in working-class Brooklyn, so… yeah), but in the cultural context where he grew up, you sure as hell didn’t say ‘fuck’ in front of a lady, not if you had any manners to speak of.
/speaking as someone who cusses like breathing, even.
This is the best explanation of Steve’s ‘language’ line I’ve ever seen.
It is indeed.
As an aside, one thing I discovered when I joined the Coast Guard in the ‘80s was that every stereotype you hear about sailors and foul language is understated by several orders of magnitude.
When I returned to civilian life, I clamped down HARD on that vocabulary, because I knew if I let one four-letter word slip … hoo boy.
After perhaps two years, I uttered a faint “damn” at work. Everyone stopped and LOOKED at me.
“We’ve never heard you swear before! We thought you were really religious or something!”
“… no, I’m a recovering sailor.”