London Signage 03: m*ta-avoidance

Les mis en garde du métro londonien contre un comportement agressif des voyageurs utilisent la typographie et le remplacement de voyelles par des signes autrement plus habituellement utilisés pour camoufler les jurons.

Since last year, Transport for London has been running a series of posters aiming at improving passengers’ behaviour. To soften the underlying stern injunctions (”Don’t push!”, “Don’t block the closing doors to squeeze in at the last moment!”, “Keep your music volume down!”, “Don’t eat smelly or drippy food on the Tube!”), the designers have added graphical elements to the lettering — playing with fonts, molding the typography into cute little signs: the dripping fat from a portion of fries, the sound waves emanating from an iPod.

Here is the poster that deals with aggression towards Tube employees:

Transport for London anti-aggression signage

This is the first time I’ve seen a semiotic usage of the avoidance characters outside comic strips. By replacing some vowels with an asterisk, an exclamation mark and an at-sign, a layer of meaning is added to the otherwise somewhat cryptic statement “Don’t take it out on our staff”. The smaller print refers to assault, but given the visual effect, I’m sure verbal abuse is covered, too, by this warning.


On fuck and Marmite

Un agent de police anglais a dressé un PV de £80 (120€ à peu près) contre un jeune homme qui venait d’employer le mot fuck dans une conversation avec ses potes. Le porte-parole de la police compare l’attitude du public envers ce mot à l’amour ou la haine que les gens éprouvent pour le Marmite — une pâte à tartiner salée à base de levure de bière. Ce nom commercial est, bien entendu, un emprunt au français.

Via Bystander, a blogging English magistrate judge: A youth from Kent has been issued a £80 (about 117.139019€, if you ask Google) on-the-spot fine for using “the F-word”, as they put it. Here’s the BBC news report:

Kurt Walker, 18, from Deal, Kent, said he would go to court rather than pay the fine handed out in a town park.

He said he received the fixed-penalty notice after he used the F-word to a group of friends he met in the park.

Kent Police said fixed penalty notices were just one tool to help them to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Student Mr Walker was on his way to a youth centre where he works as a volunteer when he stopped to talk to friends.

“One of my mates said, ‘What have you been up to’, and I swore when I replied,” he said. […]

“In my eyes I have not committed any crime whatsoever,” he said, adding that swearing was a normal part of the language he and his friends use.

Dover District Council’s anti-social behaviour unit works closely with Kent Police to tackle bad behaviour.

“Swearing and abusive behaviour certainly is not normal behaviour and I feel it should never be used in a public place,” said councillor Julie Rook.

A Kent Police spokeswoman said: “The public expect us to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Bystander quotes a different press report, one I can’t find online, in which a police spokesman draws a perilous comparison:

A Kent Police spokesman confirmed: “He didn’t swear at the police, he was talking to his mates [but] it was close enough to the police officer.

“It’s an offence under the Public Order Act. It’s quite reasonable to give someone a fixed penalty notice and if someone doesn’t want to pay it they can go to court.

“Some people think it [the fine] is over the top, some people think it’s perfectly reasonable.

“It’s one of those things that divides people, like Marmite.”

Now do we have to defend the honour of Marmite or the use of taboo language within one’s own social circle, be it in a public venue?

Marmite, the word, is of course a borrowing from French, where the noun marmite ([maʁ’mit]) denotes a cauldron or large cooking pot.

A small addendum, penned a few hours later: The Guardian is a paper on whose very sensible attitude towards taboo language I’ve already commented. Still, it was surprising to see in a book review by Natasha Walter (dated February 18, 2006) the word fuck employed outside a direct quote:

As Erica Jong, erstwhile celebrator of the zipless fuck, tells Levy: “Sexual freedom can be a smokescreen for how far we haven’t come.”

The book is Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy.


Oh bugger! (A public service announcement)

Le sketch The Word “Fuck” [mp3] [script], bien que confidentiel, a été largement attribué à Monty Python. Il semble que cela ait été par erreur : un témoignage affirme que l’auteur de la version finale fut un certain Jack Walker, connu pour ayant été «la voix de Disney» dans les parcs d’attraction de cette société. Ceci collerait également mieux à l’accent nord-américain cultivé qu’on peut entendre sur l’enregistrement.

I may have inadvertently contributed to circulating a falsehood. It concerns a brilliant bit of comedy that goes by the title The Usage of the Word “Fuck” or The History of the Word “Fuck” or simply Fuck, The Word. Neither the script nor the recording is particularly easy to find, but wherever I saw it referenced, it was attributed to Monty Python. The delivery and format are sufficiently Pythonesque that it never occurred to me to doubt their authorship, even though the cultured American-accented voice on the recording doesn’t seem to belong to any of the Pythons and the skit is not part of their famous collections.

This morning on IRC, Dan Dickinson kept insisting that this work couldn’t be Monty Python’s. He came up with a page that quotes an e-mail claiming that while the origins of the recording are still in the dark, the author and speaker of the final version was one Jack Wagner:

The guy who does the audio on the “Fuck, The Word” (aka “The Word Fuck”) track is NOT George Carlin, nor is it Monty Python, as is often credited.

It is the late Jack Wagner, the former ‘voice of Disneyland’.

I know, since I gave him the ORIGINAL copy on tape (before the internet) in 1989 during a time when we worked together. I have NO IDEA who did that version, but it was much shorter & the quality of the tape was quite poor. (Musicians, voiceover artists, engineers and other recording guys often traded tapes of rare & funny stuff. Unfortunately, quality was lost in generation after generations of copies.) Jack decided to re-do it, correcting some grammar and adding a few more examples of his own, then backed the whole thing up with the Vivaldi music.

I know this - I had the original copy and heard it first. Later, I heard from other techies at the park that he was so proud of it that he’d share it with everyone. I had always worried it would get him into trouble, but if ANYONE at Disneyland had ‘job security’, it would be him!

Years later when I heard it on the internet (the world’s bulletin board or bathroom wall), I just had to snicker. But we need to give credit where credit is due. His family may wish to forget it - the ‘park’ certainly does! - but he seemed to have been proud of it, so give him the creds.

The author of this missive wants to remain anonymous so as not to endanger his employment. But as anonymous e-mails go, this one is rather convincing. I’m happy to give credits to Jack Wagner. Even better: if this story is true, I see no reason not to make the recording [mp3] available for download.

Update, 2007-06-03: This little document is responsible for an astonishing part of my download bandwidth. I have therefore uploaded it to the Internet Archive and changed the link to their service. Many thanks.


Avoiding the asterisks … of avoidance

Quelques remarques au sujet des gros mots dans la presse. Et comment éviter les astérisques d’évitement.

The software upgrade seems to have gone all right (please report any problems you may have with this site). Posting, on the other hand, has been light; mainly because I’m recovering from a particularly tenacious cold/cough/bronchitis, which has me look at the more substantial posts in the pipeline and shake my head in disgust about […]

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Eric Idle, le célèbre comique et membre de Monty Python, a récemment été obligé par la FCC (l’équivalent étatsunien du CSA français) à payer une amende de $5000 pour avoir prononcé le mot « fuck » sur les ondes de la radio. En réaction, celui qui se décrit lui-même comme, parmi les (six) Pythons « le le […]

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