Swearing, Smiling, and Fuzzy Q. Jones

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March 2, 2017 by libroshombre

Swearing connotes honesty according to a study reported in “Social Psychology and Personality Science” by researchers from the US, UK, Netherlands, and Hong Kong. They asked international participants to list their favorite and most commonly-used swear words, to rate their reasons for using those words, and submit to “a lie test to determine if they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable.” They found swearing often rises from unfiltered emotions, and “those who used more profanity were also more likely to uses language patterns that have been shown … to be related to honesty.”

So what’s with the Italians? “Swearing, Italian Style,” a NYTimes.com article by Beppe Severgnini, author of “A Field Guide to the Italian Mind” begins, “The Italian language is so beautiful. All those vowels, those lovely flowing sounds, the mellifluous phrases honed by centuries of happy use. All that has changed. Italians are using more and more ‘parolacce’ (swear words), in private conversations, within the family, in public life, on mainstream media and – of course – on social media.”

The reasons Severgnini cites for the rise of Italian profanity are threefold: “families stopped being schools for good manner,” “public discourse has become angrier,” and they “simply don’t speak our language as well as we used to.” The same can be said of American English in every regard. Reversing the trend begins with common decency, AKA civility, and smiling’s an excellent place to start. As Shakespeare noted, “A smile recures the wounding of a frown.”

Smiling, in particular the phrase “Smile when you say that!,” arose during a recent Osher Lifelong Learning class on TV shows of the 50s and 60s when Westerns were immensely popular and it was neato to respond to wisecracks with, “Smile when you say that, podner!” The original phrase came from Owen Wister’s classic, “The Virginian,” in which the hero is playing poker with the villain, a cowboy named Trampas, who says, “ ‘Your bet, you son-of-a–.’ The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a little more than usual, so there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas” ‘When you call me that, SMILE.’”

Fuzzy Q. Jones, the quintessential western sidekick, made millions smile. Fuzzy was portrayed in hundreds of cheap westerns by Al St. John, the nephew of Fatty Arbuckle and one of the most talented slapstick performers of the silent era. St. John, Arbuckle, and a teenaged Buster Keaton made hilarious physical comedies, but as Wikipedia said, St. John “basically defined the role and concept of ‘comical sidekick’ to cowboy heroes from 1930 to 1951.” Our library owns seven of St. John’s movies, including “The ‘Forgotten’ Films of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle.”

On the other hand, “Don’t Smile Too Big to Be Effective In Online Marketing Ads,” a recent ScienceDaily.com article advises. It told of University of Kansas researchers who “found that the level of smile intensity in marketing photos influences how consumers perceive the marketer’s competence and warmth … We found that broad smiles lead people to be perceived as warmer but less competent.’” Apparently broad smiles work well with less risky products, like chewing gum, and “slight smiles did better in marketing scenarios where services were higher risk, such as a medical procedure.”

Smiling poses other risks. Prolific book reviewer Jim DeWitt, the most ardent fan of Terry Pratchett on this hemisphere, turned me on to Pratchett’s marvelous satirical fantasy novels, but also warned me about reading Pratchett while flying. The author’s penchant for springing hilarious lines on his readers leads to frequent uncontrolled outbursts of laughter. A few lines like, “He didn’t like yogurt, considering it cheese that’s not trying hard enough,” and seatmates grow nervous.

Pratchett’s novels represented three percent of all British publishing year after year, so he cared about reading. And when he wrote, “The space between the young reader’s eyeballs and the printed page is a holy place and officialdom should trample on all over it at their peril,” I swear he’s right.


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