Parental Warning: Explicit Language

One thing that jumps out at me about Cotton Comes to Harlem is all the mother-raping profanity. I’m assuming Himes had to put it that way because he couldn’t get away with the F-bomb. Or maybe the publisher changed it for him. I wonder though: Did people ever actually talk that way? I hear people say effing or freaking in real-life conversation – was it a term like that? Or was it like the “Flip you!” that people only use in edited for TV movies. Interestingly (or should I say Unfortunately?), if Himes used the proper swear word I wouldn’t have even noticed it, but the euphemism becomes a distraction pretty quickly.

Google shows some other euphemisms for the same term in the Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang Edited By Tom Dalzell and The F-Word by Jesse Sheidlower and Lewis Black. Acceptable alternatives include motherseller, motorcycle, motor flicker, and motor scooter. What would happen if Samuel L. Jackson had to talk like that?

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3 Responses to Parental Warning: Explicit Language

  1. Mo says:

    I was really confused why everyone kept saying that, but what you guess seems to be logical. I think that using “rape” is more insulting than using the F bomb, but maybe it is just something most people said in those years.

  2. I find “mother raper” more disturbing than “mother f***er”.

    • phb256 says:

      I agree. I think the F word is used so casually these days that it has little power, while rape is a heinous crime. I’m guessing that at the time this book was published the F word was considered unprintable, so Himes used this substitute which is really more offensive than the word it replaced.

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