>RIP George Carlin, 1937-2008

>When I was in junior high, my best friend Maria and I used to sneak off to a corner of the playground to listen to a cassette tape (on an office tape recorder) of George Carlin’s then current HBO special, which her older brother had made with the same the recorder, microphone held up to the TV.

We would listen to that show over and over and over again. We loved it. It was the one where he expanded the 7 dirty words into a list of 100. We were fascinated by that list, partly because we weren’t even sure what some of those words meant, at least not in their dirty versions (I think “jellyroll” was on there). But mostly we just liked the sheer rhythmic, poetic quality of it, and its taboo qualities. We would chant parts of it on our Catholic school playground as if it were a jump-rope song, and our teachers never seemed to notice.

And that wasn’t the only bit we liked. We loved his screed against the word “nice” or his “football vs. baseball” bit (“Baseball is played on a diamond; football is played on a gridiron“). We loved his fascination with language, its oddities, and our odd attitudes about it. In many ways, I think George Carlin is responsible for my having becoming an English professor. I’m pretty sure he’s responsible for why I love the medieval play Mankind so much. And he definitely gets credit for my willingness to say “ShitPissFuckCuntCocksuckerMotherfuckerandTits” — onetwothreefourfive…just like that Jesus* — in class when I want to talk about issues of register. (Truthfully, I haven’t done the whole string in awhile…I usually stick to the first three, especially “fuck.” It’s enough.)

*OK, that bit between the dashes is from e e cummings, “Buffalo Bill’s defunct.” He’s also someone responsible for helping me, at an impressionable age, to hear poetry in ordinary speech and expletives.

In Carlin’s honor, I’m including a clip from about the same time as my introduction to him. It’s about the 7 dirty words, but they don’t make an appearance until the end. But it’s definitely about language and language taboos. And because of the end it’s NOT SAFE FOR WORK!

RIP, George Carlin. I hope no one is asking you to “Have a nice day” and no one is telling your mourning family that you’ve “gone to a better place.”


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