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Historical accuracy of rude words on "Deadwood"?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2006 1:38 pm Reply with quote
Doran Gaston
 
Joined: 07 Jul 2006
Posts: 30
Location: United States, TX


I enjoy the HBO series "Deadwood" a lot (in particular, I think it's one of the best-photographed things on TV right now), but I wonder a little bit about the historical accuracy of some of the rude words that make up a fairly large percentage of the dialog . I've read some comments by people who say that the way that some of the profanity is used is historically dubious. I wouldn't be surprised if it is, but I'm not very knowledgable about such things. Does anyone here have any knowlege about the type of rude words that were used in the late 19th century? There's a western novel by Richard Matheson called Journal of the Gun Years (well worth a read if you can find it) in which most of the profanity used by the main character in his journal is censored in keeping with the 19th century sqeamishness about printing profanities. I can even recall reading some novels and short stories from that era in literature classes in which even fairly mild rude words like "damn" are represented by the first letter followed by a line.

BTW, I was a little bit amused to see that the word "Hooplehead" has made it into Urban Dictionary:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hooplehead
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:31 pm Reply with quote
OskarSigvardsson
 
Joined: 04 Jul 2006
Posts: 12
Location: Stockholm, Sweden


No, they did not speak like that in historical Deadwood. I remember reading an interview (I can't remember where from, wikipedia quotes it but doesn't give a source) with David Milch where he stated that he originally intended to use period slang. However to our ears, it "..made everyone sound like Yosemite Sam." Smile

I think he did the right thing in using modern profanity instead. While it certainly is anachronistic, it very skillfully does what is intended: shock the viewer just like normal people back then would be shocked by their language.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2006 9:47 am Reply with quote
Dave
 
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC


I have to say that I find the use of 20th-century obscene slang in Deadwood jarring. I undertstand why Milch is doing it, for the reasons you just mentioned, Oskar. But I would find it much more interesting if the slang expressions of the period could have been used and the actors could have conveyed the power of those words.

In addition to being a German teacher, I'm also a theater arts teacher. There is a rather common acting exercise wherein the performers act out a scene while using gibberish language--words and sounds that have no actual meaning. The challenge is to convey the force of emotion while using meaningless words. The point is that the power of language is not limited to word choice.

It is not hard to imagine how this could work in Deadwood. The actors would simply have to understand just how strong a word or phrase was perceived by that speech community.

This is a subtle thing. Every year in my upper-level German classes I have to explain to some bright student that the German word "geil," which is used in very informal situations to mean "cool" or "great" is also used to mean the equivalent of the American word "horny" (i.e., strongly desirous of sexual relations). Once they learn that color of the word, they will still use it, but they understand it better. They have now come to appreciate the emotional force of that casual slang word.

Seems to me the same kind of thing could have been done with 19th-century expletives on Deadwood.

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Re: Historical accuracy of rude words on "Deadwood"
PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2006 3:04 pm Reply with quote
MIke2GuysTalking
 
Joined: 09 Jul 2006
Posts: 17
Location: St. Louis, MO USA


Doran Gaston wrote:


BTW, I was a little bit amused to see that the word "Hooplehead" has made it into Urban Dictionary:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hooplehead


A common term I hear on a talk-radio show on our local FMTalk station is "Sheeple"

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sheeple

Same kind of category. That urban dictionary certainly has become robust. Wow.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2006 3:12 pm Reply with quote
MIke2GuysTalking
 
Joined: 09 Jul 2006
Posts: 17
Location: St. Louis, MO USA


Dave wrote:

This is a subtle thing. Every year in my upper-level German classes I have to explain to some bright student that the German word "geil," which is used in very informal situations to mean "cool" or "great" is also used to mean the equivalent of the American word "horny" (i.e., strongly desirous of sexual relations). Once they learn that color of the word, they will still use it, but they understand it better. They have now come to appreciate the emotional force of that casual slang word.


It's funny that you mention the student/teacher relationship. Every American Sign Language class that I have instructed always has someone that will use an "alternate palm orientation", or repeat a sign more than once which in many cases means something completely different. There is also the "Regional Differences" of sign language. My two favorite samples are included below:

- Carburetor: The sign for carburetor (like an engine's carburetor) is basically stroking the area of the center of the throat twice. When done in a slower manner with appropriate (or in this case, inappropriate facial expression) it is one of the MANY signs for "horny" or "I desire you".

- Mowing the Lawn: The sign for mowing the lawn, cutting the grass, making the tall blades shorter blades, is by by taking two "five" hands, facing down, putting the right on on top of the left, and moving the right over the left - thereby creating what is essentially blades or the gears of a mower. A great sign, unless you're in the fine state of Wisconsin, where this is the sign for PORNOGRAPHY. Beware, those of you who are roaming, American Sign Language-using Lawn Detailers Smile

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2006 4:56 pm Reply with quote
Doran Gaston
 
Joined: 07 Jul 2006
Posts: 30
Location: United States, TX


Here's something interesting that James Cheney posted on the Mobius Home Video Forum (mhvf.net) Netword & Premium Television board about the origins of the word hooplehead:

"I was somewhat joking when I tossed in Major Hoople, but this online hooplehead investigator is convinced that we need look no further for the Deadwood term's origins:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hoo3.htm

The comic strip character made his entrance onto the stage of "Our Boarding House" only in 1922, long after Deadwood takes place, but long before it was created. The author supposes hoople and hooplehead are backdated anachronisms that sound like they belong in historical context, but didn't. If all this is so (???), it seems of a piece with the 'true to life' seeming yet historically unlikely salty vocabulary of the Deadwood folks. I'd suggest 'hoople' got conflated with 'hophead' to create a expletive deleted-head/same expletive-for-brains type combo, a 'you sorry idiot!' term of dingbat endearment.

For the record, Mott the Hoople took its name from a sixties novel which may have borrowed its name in turn from the boarding house strip: both featured small account grifter hooples.

There was a Canadian band that took its name from the strip directly: Major Hoople's Boarding House."

Here's a link to the "What's a 'hooplehead?'" thread:

http://z8.invisionfree.com/MHVF/index.php?showtopic=6291&st=0&#entry10122514
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 3:17 pm Reply with quote
Doran Gaston
 
Joined: 07 Jul 2006
Posts: 30
Location: United States, TX


Guess what today's NPR "Story of the Day" Podcast is about?

Dakota Historians Survey Curses of 'Deadwood'

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11069263&ft=2&f=1090

I'm amazed that I'm posting a reply to a thread I started nearly a whole year ago!
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Historical accuracy of rude words on "Deadwood"?
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