George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops?

Carlin considers the softening of language and political correctness bullshit. He illustrates how language is softened by examining the progress of the concept of shell shock. During World War I, shell shock was the term used to describe the condition that occurs when a soldier’s nervous system reaches a breaking point.  During the Second World War, the term “shell shock” expanded to four syllables and was called “battle fatigue” and, during the Korean War, the term expanded to eight syllables and was called “operational exhaustion.” Finally, during the Vietnam War the term became eight syllables with a hyphen and was called “posttraumatic stress disorder.” Given that, in America, realism is the same thing as pessimism and pessimism is less popular than optimism, Carlin argues that this kind of softening of language is effective because it makes reality “less vivid” and therefore bullshit.

Another thing that Carlin considers bullshit is political correctness. In particular, he argues that political correctness is “America’s newest form of intolerance and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance.” Carlin sheds light on liberal tendencies to rename groups of victims with less offensive names, as if the new name somehow solves initial malfunction. For example, over the last few decades, the term “cripple” fell out of favor and has since been replaced by the term “physically challenged” or “differently abled.” Carlin mocks this transition by pointing out that liberals tend to focus on the external, changing offensive words, rather than the internal, the underlying bigotry and insensitivity.

I view many of Carlin’s observations as examples of hidden idealism. He doesn’t want language to soften with time because he wants the truth to hit people smack in the face. For example, he wants to call a person in a wheelchair who was hit by a drunk or texting driver a “cripple” rather than “differently abled.” He argues that rather than being offended by the word, society should be offended by what the word represents. I see this as the purest form of idealism. In other words, rather than calling a person in a wheelchair “differently abled” and going along our merry way, we as the society should call him a “cripple” and be outraged by this stupidity of the situation that caused him to be a cripple. Maybe then we will be outraged enough to change the situation so that the same thing doesn’t happen in the future.

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Ambrose Bierce’s The Cynic’s Word Book

Ambrose Bierce’s “The Cynic’s Word Book” is an interesting approach to witticism. Rather than present the witticisms in a story, Bierce presents them in a dictionary style. He analyzes words and turns their definitions on their head. An important consideration of his approach is the reader’s knowledge of what the actual word means. In other words, the reader must be familiar with the word’s original definition in order to get the joke. For example, the word “apologize” is defined as “to lay the foundation for a future offense.” Here Bierce is playing with the idea of an apology. When an individual commits an act that went off course in some way that results in ill-treatment of someone else, he apologizes and expects to be forgiven by the party who has been treated badly. In his definition, Bierce inverts this understanding of the word apology and instead presents it as something that allows for future ill-treatment. Similarly, the word “corporation” is defined as “an ingenious device for securing individual profit without individual responsibility.” When this definition was written, almost a century ago, it was likewise an inversion of the actual meaning of “corporation.” However, given the reality of how government and business relate to one another in today’s world, Bierce’s definition might not be much of an exaggeration or inversion at all.