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Let’s go back almost 80 years during the new beginnings of Hollywood film history, it is now the year 1939 and a new film titled “Gone with the Wind” has just been released where the Production of Code Administration has required that producer, David O. Selznick defends the use of profanity in his film… let’s take a look.

So, this particular scene becomes the most popular in the film for its epic savagery moment and not to mention its vulgarism… However, what became the most famous line almost didn’t make it into the film and had to be given special dispensation. In fact, before given this dispensation, Selznick went around soliciting alternate lines or euphemisms including things like … “I don’t give a straw” and “I don’t give a hoot!” to replace the word “damn”.

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Well, flashforward to today’s society, and film has gone through quite the change in fact Martin Scorcese’s 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” had set a high record of using the f-bomb a mere 506 times throughout the movie however didn’t draw any negative reaction and much impact to the story as the word “damn” did in Gone with the Wind. So, two different words, both swear words and considered taboo in its time and culture yet I question, how has certain swear or taboo words gone through changes in its meaning and impact? Now going back to the word “damn” and the impact it had in that pivotal moment of the film, let’s take a look at the historical context of the word itself. The word damn, essentially meaning ‘to be condemned by god’ derives from the Old French word “damner” which derives from the Latin word “damnare” (, a derivative of the noun “damnum” which originally meant ‘loss or harm’ but had eventually carried from Old French into Modern English to its application of “pronounce judgment upon” and became what they would then consider a taboo word and profane in the 16th century. You see, even though the word was not originally a “cuss”, over time it was twisted into becoming one and in the victorian era, it was believed that referring to god in a casual or vain way would actually physically injure god himself which led people to using euphemisms for profanity just as we have the euphemism “darn” for the word damn. But even coming up to the 1900’s, the word “damn” was still the most offensive word in the English language, and in a Business Insider article interviewing Richard Stevens, the author of Black Sheep: Hidden Benefits of Being Bad, he said: “I remember being a teenager and finding a copy of the book ‘Vanity Fair’ by Thackeray, and I noticed that whenever a character in the book said the word ‘Damn’ it was written as ‘D—‘ because in 1900 damn was an unprintable word.” and this is because at that time, religion, blasphemy, and other such cultural influences were the things that determined taboo concepts and what this really shows in terms of the etymology is that language through its change in context has greatly determined what we’ve come to know as taboo language. In today’s society, swearing and the use of profanity has become more common and tolerable in fact about 0.7% of the average person’s English daily vocabulary is made up of swear words. Of course swearing itself is still taboo language and can’t be used in certain situations but the context around these words have gone through change and therefore influenced the way we use them and how they are viewed by Modern Society, for example, words that were taboo because of religious prohibitions against vain oaths and etc. But to sum up the point of view of today’s lesson; could you imagine what it would be like if words weren’t considered taboo? I mean the chief characteristics of swear words is that it is taboo to say them therefore if it no longer considered taboo then do you think we would use them as much?

We are taught not to say it in certain settings which makes us use the word even more because we’re aware of its taboo. We use it because we know it will cause a strong reaction in the audience and if it can’t be used in all situations then using it in some will highlight one’s feelings or thoughts. So coming back to the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind”, here we have a woman named Scarlett who is insecure and quite frankly a selfish narcissist and she has just blown it with a man who had loved her with passion which is why Selznick strongly felt that there was no other right moment to use the only curse word mentioned in a 4 hour movie for it become one of the most famous punchlines in Hollywood film. By prohibiting a word, Selznick was able to use this word to then exacerbate the audience about the entire storyline. Thank you so much for watching today’s episode of Quick History, here on Youtube, my name is Dina, and feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments down below, and of course! Subscribe!

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