Where do you go to (now) my lovely? 15

What the (Andruss)


Thanks to Kevin Morris of New Author Online for excellent his post ‘It’s my blog and I’ll swear if I like’.

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

15 thoughts on “Where do you go to (now) my lovely?

  1. Reply Judy Martin Jul 9,2017 6:25 pm

    I am not too keen on the F and C words, but then I love bugger, sod and shite, not to mention bloody! For som reason they don’t seem to be that bad to me! I didn’t realise what burke was rhyming slang for either!
    That was a fascinating post, Paul 🙂

    • Reply Paul Jul 9,2017 11:15 pm

      Dear Judy, your comment really made me laugh. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my favourite aunt Mary (she was my mum’s youngest sister and there was only about 12 years between us- mum came from a big family).
      MARY: I never swear.
      ME: But you say bloody!
      MARY: that’s not swearing.
      ME: and sodding hell!
      MARY: that’s not swearing.
      And the conversation went downhill from there until in the end both of us were in tears of laughter.
      So to this day I can categorically say no swear word never passed my aunt’s lips…
      at least not by her definition!

  2. Reply Mary Smith Jul 7,2017 11:59 am

    Love the origin of ‘soft shite’.
    Really good post. Maybe the F word is overused but it’s amazing how the whole subject of swearing still matters so much to people.

    • Reply Paul Jul 9,2017 12:18 am

      I love that too Mary, especially as poppycock is such a tame word… you can imagine some old nun saying it! I was having this conversation with a friend and she is rightly outraged by the continual use of the f word even with her own adult children. In the end she actually said but it’s a word… hastily adding… one I would never use because it is disgusting!

  3. Reply sally cronin Jul 5,2017 10:01 am

    When I was a child my mother used to threaten to wash my mouth out with soap for using damn and blast… she did once or twice and it still did not cure my use of profanity although I have tried to avoid it when in polite company.. That does not count in the car! Great piece as always Paul and good to know the origins of some of the words I take in vain behind the wheel.. Will reblog Friday..

    • Reply Paul Jul 7,2017 1:00 am

      Thanks Sally for your generosity, as always. I love the controversy this post created and all the variety of opinions. As writers we choose to deal with the most solid and liquid things humanity has words and ideas. Solid because once said it cannot be unsaid, liquid because not only does language change but also everyone’s perception and opinion of any statement is unique. I support it is our strength and our weakness, or cross and our joy.

  4. Reply Shehanne Moore Jul 3,2017 10:32 am

    Feck and fook but this is brilliant. Swear words have changed so much. The use of them and ones that are considered to be swear words. When I was growing up bloody was considered an awful and lower class thing to say locally. When my Mr was teaching back in in 90’s this guy arrived from England and told someone in his class to ‘shut their puss.’ Maybe he was coming it re the pretence and fortunately he said this in a tough school where kids were used to being told that, but at that time here, pus, as in shut yir ‘pus’ not puss was a swear word. Now you sit in places and every second word is an f word as in the f’ing table, I never knew so many things like tables could do that, But that word certainly up here is no longer frowned on as a swearie.

    • Reply Paul Jul 4,2017 12:32 am

      Dear Shey that is so true. It really is an all purpose word these days and the image you presented of tables and other objects in the act really tickled me pink. I suppose you will know it is really acceptable when in the next Harry Potter book Hermione tells Voldermorte to F..off.

  5. Reply D. Wallace Peach Jun 30,2017 10:57 pm

    This is fascinating. One thing that I found interesting and tricky as a writer is that profanity has different levels of offensiveness depending on what country it’s used. Some mild curse words in the US are considered more offensive in the UK. I was fortunate to have a UK beta-reader who assessed my curses, which enabled me to swap out the unacceptable ones. Just another reason to use caution.

    • Reply Paul Jul 2,2017 11:31 pm

      Diana, thanks for the insightful comment. It is true what you say, offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder (the ear of the listener didn’t quite have the same ring). It is funny that as writers we choose to play with the two most dangerous things in the world: words and ideas. But perhaps that’s the thrill of our trade. Perhaps the sense of living dangerously is not knowing how readers will react to a piece until they read it and then of course it is too late. The genie is out of the bottle. The Rubicon crossed.

  6. Reply Robbie Cheadle Jun 30,2017 7:02 pm

    An interesting post, Paul. I do not like swearing, regardless of where it came from, I prefer to not say words that are considered to be “ugly”. I agree with you that swearing is becoming common place and it is a pity. Maybe it is because the youth don’t read enough and, therefore, really do have a lack of vocabulary [wink].

    • Reply Paul Jun 30,2017 8:44 pm

      I know what you mean about using ugly words that are designed to hurt people. I think in normal conversation the gift is to use those words suitable to who you are having the conversation with. I think there used to be a sex divide in the language (what men and women once thought was acceptable among themselves and to the other sex) but I suspect that is gone. I honestly do not know it the current trend is down to lack of reading or merely what is acceptable within the peer group. One of the things I tried to point out in the post is language constantly evolves and (it’s my belief) language is absurd- despite the fact it is all we have. On the bright side, while youngsters use words that would make a soldier blush, they are much more aware of other ugly words once deemed acceptable in society and would never use them mainly because they no longer have those deep seated prejudices. Anyway that’s what I think. What about you?

  7. Reply patriciaruthsusan Jun 30,2017 10:53 am

    We learn something new every day. Thanks for all the research, Paul 🙂 — Suzanne

  8. Reply Kevin Jun 29,2017 8:07 pm

    Many thanks for the mention, Paul. Yours is a thought provoking post. Best wishes, Kevin

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