34: "Dirty Wordy"

Ever say a word over and over and over until it doesn't even sound like a word anymore?  Try it!  My favorites are "squirrel" and "shovel" and "boy".  Just keeping saying a word repeatedly until the word loses all meaning and all attachment to syntax.

This phenomenon is called Semantic Satiation.  Basically, there's a part of your brain that controls what you focus on and what you don't.  When sounds are heard in repetition for a long period, the brain glitches (similar to Déjá vu) and loses focus of the meaning and just hears the sound alone.  This is where syntax becomes glossolalia and the word just sounds like gibberish.

I was curious, though...are there words that take more repetitions to lose their meaning than others?  Benign words like "squirrel" and "shovel" start to sound ridiculous pretty quickly.  But words like "nigger" or "faggot" tend to keep their meaning for a much more extended period of time.  In fact, those two words never lost their meaning for me.  I actually focused more on the meaning the more I said it.

So what's THAT all about then?  Are there words that are just plain bad?  Or is it the intention behind the word that gives the word its power?  I decided to try this out with some garden variety "dirty" words.  Fuck, Shit, Piss, Tits, Dick and Asshole.  That's all I had time to fit into a 60 second film.  Much like "squirrel" and "shovel", all of these "dirty" words lost their meaning fairly quickly and started to sound bizarre.  Some of them didn't even sound like a language at all.

At this point, I'm sure most of you are familiar with George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" bit.  This bit was the basis of a landmark censorship case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Some classic lines include: "On TV, you can be pissed off.  But you can't be pissed on."  And: "You can prick your finger, just don't finger your prick."

Sounds kind of hypocritical, doesn't it.  On this sort of hypocrisy, Carlin said:

You really cannot pin down what these rules they want to enforce are. It's just impossible to say 'this is a blanket rule'. You'll see some newspapers print 'f blank blank k'. Some print 'f asterisk asterisk k'. Some put 'f blank blank blank'. Some put the word 'bleep'. Some put, 'expletive deleted'. So there's no real consistent standard. It's not a science. It's a notion that they have and it's superstitious. These words have no power. We give them this power by refusing to be free and easy with them. We give them great power over us. They really, in themselves, have no power. It's the thrust of the sentence that makes them either good or bad.


I had been wanting to make a film while experimenting with the scanner.  I typed out all of the word variations into lists and printed it out.  Then scanned the print back in.  Then printed that new scan back out.  Then scanned the new print back in.  Sort of a Xerox copy effect.  More like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox.  The third time around it got just dingy enough without losing it's ink quality.  I really love the way the edge of the letters are not crisp because of ink bleeding into the paper:

Then I scanned a few while sliding the paper around on the scanner glass at various speeds, mid-scan.  It's a great way to create analog glitches.  It's sort of similar to using a slow shutter in photography.  Some results below:

I also caked some ink onto a piece of paper so that it bled through to the piece underneath, creating some nice stains and splotches:

Here are some finished stills from the film: