Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Minions, Gib-reesh and Taboo

Originally posted on February 4, 2016

You don’t really need words. There was a movie in 2015 titled “The Minions,” a sort of cartoon movie about those cute, diminutive medicine-capsule shaped little guys. They were sidekicks to a villain in the popular movies around 2012 and got their own film in 2015. They speak in a kind of gibberish that, with intonation and gesture seems to communicate the general sense of what’s intended. (As a teen-ager my friends and I would do this, pretending to be spies from something sort of Russian. It was our way of being subversive.) The television comedian Sid Caesar was a master of this as were some of his co-actors such as Howard Morris.)

It occurred to me that Dr. Seuss used a sort of Gib-reesh (as I call it). I got a card for my son on his 50th birthday that uses a sort of Doctor Seuss language: You can’t be fifty, you’re too fit; fifties flumple when they sit. If you were fifty you’d be slow; your fifty-year-old flurb would show… Your plog would plug; your shroonk would shrink; yours hasn’t done that, I don’t think…” Aside from the obnoxious age-ism in the card—most of neighbors in their 70s don’t have a fifty-year-old flurb!—the clever part is that we intuitively “get” what the card is getting at. Double-talk, gibberish, if done well, is sly: You are stimulated to fill in what they don’t say. Whether a man or woman, whatever, flurbs show! Something that merits the term shlurb shows, anyway. So it’s a bit of a comment on lingustics.

There is a freedom to make up words and some newsmagazines have even held contests about something like this—I believe Atlantic did it for a while, and then the Sunday New York Times magazine. People are playing fast and loose with language.

In the mid-20th century this was mildly taboo. Yes, Lewis Carroll made up words in his fantasy fiction Alice in Wonderland stories, but otherwise it was not for the common folk. But starting in the 1970s or later (?) it seems that people have lost some inhibitions about the way people should talk, what’s proper, and so forth.

The word is “transgression.” One should not say naughty words, but some folks began to break boundaries from the 1950s on—building on Norman Mailer’s use of fug for the naughtier word in his WW2 war novel, The Naked and the Dead. Literary and news walls have been crumbling since. The scandal sheets—what else to call them—gossip newspapers?—broke further taboos about what should not be openly recognized. Closeted gays were de-closeted, often against their will. Transgressing in cussing and news and sex in the movies—is there no end to it? Should there be an end to it? That such a question might be asked is implicit in saying such things as the late comedian George Carlin was a “potty-mouth.”  He was, and I had mixed feelings about his weaving in and out of anger and indignation, but he was also a genius at exposing the folly of humanity.

We have many compartments that are variably taboo. Certain attacks on majority religions, religious figures, and dogmas—let’s not go there. Maybe not even attacks or snide remarks or satires about minority or foreign religions. Sex has become more talked about openly, but there are more and less crude ways of doing it, and with more or less compassion.

Crossing a taboo is called “transgression,” and it’s good to know that word because the crossing of taboos is part of the shift from modernity to postmodernity. What is liberal and what is conservative? What’s okay and what’s not socially acceptable—and remember that there may be many, many segments of our population with varying degrees of inclinations to transgress the norms of the dominant group. So speaking Gibreesh touches on many things.

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