Anachronistic Profanity in Deadwood

Watching rehearsals for Date Night, which has a few f-bombs in it but is still pretty palatable for the parental set, I realized that a lot of what I’ve been writing lately has been on the tame side in terms of content and language.

So I’m writing a Western (a comedy) that’s pretty damn blue and takes place in a whorehouse. For inspiration, I’ve been re-watching Deadwood and read this, which is pretty interesting, about David Milch’s use of profanity in the show:

From its debut, Deadwood drew attention for its extensive profanity. It is a deliberate anachronism on the part of the creator with a twofold intent. Milch explained in several interviews that the characters were originally intended to use period slang and swear words. Such words, however, were based heavily on the era’s deep religious roots and tended to be more blasphemous than scatological. Instead of being shockingly crude (in keeping with the tone of a frontier mining camp), the results sounded downright comical. As one commentator put it “… if you put words like ‘goldarn’ into the mouths of the characters on ‘Deadwood’, they’d all wind up sounding like Yosemite Sam.”

Instead, it was decided that the show would use current profanity in order for the words to have the same impact on modern audiences as the blasphemous ones did back in the 1870s. In early episodes, the character of Mr. Wu excessively uses “cocksucker,” his favorite derogatory term for those whom he dislikes. Wu is also fond of the Cantonese derogatory term “Gweilo” which he applies to the camp’s white males.

The other intent in regards to the frequency of the swearing was to signal to the audience the lawlessness of the camp in much the same way that the original inhabitants used it to show that they were living outside the bounds of “civil society”.


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