And Chris The Story Reading Ape for reblogging Kevin.
Together they got me off my sorry slothful behind to put virtual pen to virtual paper. Something I’ve been meaning to do since watching Big Brother UK a week or so ago.
Watching Big Brother, now there’s a ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ moment. The phrase signifying a point of irrevocable change: from which there’s no way back.
In the show, two women (one about 40, the other 20ish) were arguing. The 40 year old was merrily effing away until the the younger woman dropped a ‘C’ bomb. Then she was outraged by her effin disgustin language. It was like the C word was not a different order of magnitude, but an entirely different beast.
Ten years ago the F word was never heard on television, or at least it was bleeped if it accidentally slipped out. Now it’s the new omnibus word used to preface every emotion. Worse, I’m noticing the C word creeping onto TV too. It hangs around a bit embarrassed, like a fart at a funeral, but it makes me wonder…
As words only have the power we give them, perhaps it’s a good thing we’re reclaiming our Anglo Saxon roots. But what happens when C is as commonplace as F and we no profanities left? Then (to bastardise Peter Sarstedt’s song. And no, that’s not swearing. It’s legit. Look it up.) ‘Where will you go to (now) my lovelies?’
Originally both F words meant ‘to rub’. The sexual connotations came later. By 1600, fr*g (with only 1-G. Frigg is a Norse goddess and no she’s not related) was used as a euphemism for onanism.
Onanism… How can I put this delicately?
Onan, in the bible, was infamous for the Barclays.
Hmmm, let me try again…
A friend of mine named his parakeet Onan because it spilled its seed on the ground. Birdseed naturally; you know what messy eaters birds are.
In contrast arse and C (I am such a moral coward) were merely neutral words for body parts.
I think what sets words on the road to obscenity is snobbishness. They are first considered vulgar and common because the lower orders use them. We, in polite society, are more delicate and talk in euphemisms about bodily processes: even harmless ones like toilet. Toilette was originally a cloth on a woman’s dressing table, it then became a euphemism for doing your hair (no, I’ve no idea why either) and from there came to mean lavatory.
Perhaps it’s evolution, or is it devolution? Harmless works devolve into obscenity as each new generation defines itself by trashing what its parents thought acceptable. Let’s face it, which of us haven’t been embarrassed by our parents at some point.
In the old days the perfect solution to effectively harness the expletive was to use a ‘minced oath’. Feck is a good example.
Feck! Feck! Feck!
Given you you all know my intent, the question is… Does the changed letter make it acceptable or hypocritical?
If acceptable, then it didn’t work for blasphemy.
As late as 1974 a journalist received complaints of blasphemy because he used the word ‘Zounds’ (by God’s wounds) in a headline. Like Egad (by God), strewht (by God’s truth), and gazooks (by God’s hooks -i.e. the nails of the crucifixion) zounds was a euphemism that came to be considered blasphemous because of the intent behind it. It is thought bloody, now relegated to the minor league of swearwords, meant ‘By our Lady’ a reference to the Virgin Mary. Eventually it was replaced with ruddy.
The Puritans were very keen on blasphemy. There might have been a Gropecunt Lane by Oxford University, where the prostitutes hung out. (Now more delicately called Grope Lane by the city council). But say ‘By God’ and you were buggered.
Bugger pertaining to the country Bulgaria: the alleged homeland of an abstemious heretical sect that denied papal authority in medieval France. The church accused them of unnatural sexual practices and the name sort of stuck. It’s a bit like the biblical city of Sodom giving rise to ‘sod it’ via sodomite: despite the fact Lot offered his fellow citizens his virgin daughters -not his sons- to leave the angels alone.
While on the subject of swearwords, some of my favourites come from rhyming slang such as burke –from Berkeley Hunt and Barclays from Barclay’s Bank. Not to mention foreign word imports like ‘poppycock’ from the Dutch ‘pappy kak’; literally ‘soft shite’.
Perhaps we should do what Gore Vidal did in his comic novel ‘Myron’ to avoid profanity.
When the Supreme Court ruled each state could define what was obscene (meaning F would be ok in liberal New York while ‘darn’ was not in the Bible belt: it means ‘God damned’) Vidal substituted all the fruity words with the names of the Supreme Court Justices and created comic genius while paying due homage to their pure, high-minded wisdom. He did not, it must be said, in any way make Renquist heads, Father Hills, or Whizzer Whites out of the whole lot of them for Burgering around with the natural process of language.*
Now you have reached the end, I realise you are no wiser about where we will find our future profanities once F and C are commonplace. But hopefully you enjoyed the ride more than the destination. For as Robert Louis Stevenson once said, ‘it’s better to travel hopefully than arrive.’
And no, that’s not a euphemism.
* the names of the Supreme Court Justices