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I love words. This should be pretty clear by now as the Gates is in its third quater of online existence (Vera and I have been saying “that should totally be a blog post!” for years when coming across things that, well, ought to be shared with the world). I had the great fun of studying rhetoric at university back i the Old Country, and often come across something that makes me wish I could kick back just sit and read all day.

For example this essay:  From Cacemphaton to Cher: Foul Language and Evidence in the Rhetorical Tradition (Relevant Rhetoric Vol. 3 2012 – click here) by Jonathan Hunt, Associate Director of the Program in Writing & Rhetoric Stanford University. (warning – long quote ahead. For the bad words, jump to the end of the post)

Surprisingly, though, there has not been much attention to swearing on the part of rhetoricians. This is the object of the present essay: not swearing itself, but rather its neglect by rhetoricians, and what this neglect reveals about our field of study. Scholars  in nearly every field of human inquiry have investigated swearing, foul language, obscene and profane speech: they have studied it in the past and present and in languages and cultures across the globe; they have discovered it to be a rich and varied practice that is not only expressive, but involves persuasive intent and persuasive impact. They have examined swearing in politics, in courts of law, and in ceremonial discourse. In short, they have demonstrated to us that swearing is rhetorical.Why has everyone else noticed this while crickets chirp in the fields of rhetoric? I’ll argue that we are kept from the juicy topic of swearing by our pedagogical heritage, what David Fleming calls “rhetoric as the study of speaking and writing well, a historically prominent and remarkably consistent program of instruction involving both theory and practice and aimed at the moral and intellectual development of the student.”From classical Greece to first-year composition, our disciplinary purpose has been defined in normative and pedagogical terms—in other words, we study not “writing” but “writing well,” and “well” is understood at least partly in a moral sense. This is not to suggest that we should abandon our pedagogical heritage, but rather to claim that it limits unnecessarily our field of study.

The rest of the essay explores this in a swift, precise and engaging manner. When politicians and celebreties today swear, in a world where words run amock and everything can go viral (including a man taking a sip of water before answering a question about another man’s speech…) can it be argued that they are in fact swearing with rhetorical intent?

Below an example of some seriously excessive swearing that functions as a style unto itself in the piece. the content is very heavy on facts and could be rather dry: it is a biographic account of Elizabeth ‘Nellie Bly’ Cochrane. The author is interjecting, rather forcefully a feminist reading of Cochrane’s life, stressing the issues on which she broke with conformity and challenged the ruling patriarchy  But the the auther does it while using some foul expressions and it makes the whole thing highly amusing. I was at least laughing out loud! There is something so irreverent and rebellious about this “kicking and yelling”-type of writing that clashes deliciously with the subject matter. Add to that the sense of ‘not being a good girl’ which is exactly what the author argues Nellie wasn’t, and we have at least one of the explanations that swearing with rhetorical intent works so well here.

I don’t know who the original author is, but it seems to be posted on this Tumblr as one of the first places.

So, without further ado: Ladies, and Gentlemen 

Why you should be in passionate horny love with Elizabeth ‘Nellie Bly’ Cochrane

  • Born in 1864/65, Elizabeth, one of 15 children, was always ‘the rebellious one’. Fierce as fuck from an early age, she testified against her abusive stepfather in her mother’s divorce trial.
  • In 1880 she enrolled in a teacher-training college but had to leave after her first semester due to lack of funding – then moved to Pittsburgh to help run a goddamn boarding school. 
  • This is where we get to the good shit. Age 18, she wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch bitchslapping the everloving fuck out of a sexist ballsack of an article entitled ‘What Girls Are Good For’.
  • The editor was so goddamn wooed by her razor-sharp tongue that he RAN AN AD asking her to identify herself. Elizabeth owned up, and was hired instantaneously, her badassery radiating from her pores and intoxicating all within a twenty mile radius.
  • Working under the pen-name Nellie Bly, Elizabeth kicked the butts of morons everywhere, writing articles aimed at social justice, particularly labour laws to protect working ‘girls’ and reform of Pennsylvania’s divorce law, which greatly favoured men.
  • Not content with changing the world from behind her desk, Elizabeth became a founding mother of investigative journalism. She was expelled from Mexico for exposing political corruption, and henceforth wrapped in cotton wool by her editors. Infuriated by their mollycoddling, Lizzie left them a note essentially telling them to fuck themselves and hot footed it to NYC. She was still only 23.
  • Within six months she was hired by Joseph fucking Pulitzer himself, and continued her batshit crazy investigations uninhibited. Her very first assingment had her feigning mental illness to expose repulsive conditions in Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. Her cutting report was so fucking horrifying, compelling and persuasive that it triggered public and political action, leading to reform of the institution.
  • In the next couple of years she had herself thrown in jail and hired by a sweatshop, all for shits and giggles. Oh, and to uncover incomprehensible injustice, cruelty, poverty, and the concealed, heinous treatment of the vulnerable and voiceless.
  • But was pioneering journalism, social revolution and batshit badassery enough for our Liz? Like fuck it was. On a whim Nellie did what any self-respecting 25 year old woman in the 1800s would do – she emulated Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and did it in 72.
  • Millions followed her journey, and its appeal to a semi-literate populace resulted in greatly increased newspaper readership. So while travelling the entire globe (IN THE 1800s, AS A WOMAN) by ship, train, burro and balloon, she helped the world to read.
  • Having essentially conquered the entire goddamn universe before hitting 30, Nellie retired, and wed 72 year old industrialist Robert Seaman. Their marriage was a happy one, and after his death she took over Iron Clad Manufacturing Co.
  • But Lizzie was a writer, what would she know about the metal industry? Well, she INVENTED the steel barrel that became the model for the widely used 55-gallon drum and turned her inherited businesses into multimillion-dollar companies, so apparently a fuck ton.
  • Furthermore, she set a precedent for working conditions, ensuring her workers had good pay, gymnasiums, staffed libraries, and health care, all completely unheard of at the time, while still writing to further the plight of the Suffragette movement.
  • Nellie may have died age 58 of pneumonia, but HBICs live on forever.

*) HBIC = Head bitch in charge

(Photo: Josh Pincus is crying-blog)