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Thread: Swearing (Language Warning)

  1. #1

    Swearing (Language Warning)

    Bad Language

    I was born in inner SE London before World War Two broke out in 1939. Then people owned radios but telephones, TVs and computers had yet to take up the role in the populace which they occupy today. In those days the impact of America on British media was negligible and in any case domestic radio broadcasting was heavily censored by the BBC. We youngsters of London grew up learning two languages: namely formal literate English and everyday common slang which included the ‘swear words’. Then to swear as a part of everyday use was a coarse sin, seen to be committed by the lower working classes, who by definition had limited intellectual knowledge and who seemed to revert to swearing in order to make their point. For a young boy studying at a good quality school to be caught swearing in public would have resulted in detention and perhaps painful corporal punishment such as caning.

    Back in those days an individual’s status in society could be judged by knowing where he lived, how he dressed, the sound of his voice and what his father did for a living. Girls, young and old, working class or middle class, simply did not swear but washer women or female factory hands might. Some of the swear words were in common use by the lower working class orders - many of whom were only semi-literate.

    The word ‘buggar’ had a specific application and generally referred to ‘gay’ men. Back then homo sexuality was illegal and punishable by a jail sentence. It was often associated inappropriately with the practice of paedophilia. There were numerous derogatory terms used to describe an active homosexual, most of which have since fallen into disuse in more enlightened times.

    The old ‘Sod‘ hinted that the man in question was a down and out drunkard.

    ‘Prozzy‘ was an immoral woman who plied her trade on the street corner in return for money.

    A ‘bastard’ was any child who was born out of wedlock - which was a sin because it implied the practice of sex before marriage, then almost seen to be a mortal sin. Single motherhood was frowned upon in an era before the pill. A ‘back street’ abortion was probably always available but invariably the risk of infection or other health risks from the procedure were preferable to the stigma which illegitimacy conveyed on the ‘offspring‘.

    A mild swearword was a ‘bleeder’ - who could be lucky as well as unlucky.
    Back in those days, an individual would give away to strangers his class ranking by his choice of language. As a general rule if one aspired to move up through the social classes in everyday society, then one should not be heard to swear. One never wrote down swear words, merely to include them in an article was almost an obscenity in itself.

    By the time WW2 had come to an end, the British Isles had been invaded and occupied by allied soldiers from across the world. Americans were but just one breed of the relatively benign invaders who had sailed across the oceans so as to combat the evil dictator Herr Hitler. Common soldiers back in those days were demeaned by NCOs as a matter of routine as part of the training procedure.

    After the war the British Empire was disbanded, so steadily was the class system through which it had been managed. The post war United Kingdom was to be a very different country from pre war Great Britain.

    The words ‘f**k’ & c**t’ slowly came into regular everyday use and perhaps the two words have survived to hold the top rated expression for foul language (as warrants my use of astericks). Somehow ’shag’ has not managed to take its place as the most favoured word of foul expression. Gradually, as the media has intruded into everyday life, the barriers against using such swearwords has fallen away. Maybe if the American film industry had not been so successful in penetrating the programming of British television, then the process might have taken longer. Other factors have perhaps helped accelerate the process, such as the decline of the influence of the Church of England in everyday life in Britain The expression ‘Oh my God’ would once have been seen as blasphemy, nowadays it is commonly used even by classy women. My wife’s favourite expression is ’for goodness sake’ and only rarely and then in extreme cases, does she revert to ‘f**k it’. (I duck when she is in that mood) Maybe the British have become less formal in their approach to language, probably because of the wider ethnic diversity of the population, especially in London and some other of the bigger cities.

    A local man whom I know has created a dictionary of swear words. He once remarked to me that most swearwords have a connection to sexual practices both deviant and natural, to the sexual organs and to defecation. Whatever, the use of swear words in general speech has become a matter of common practice.

    But arguably the interesting development is that some very common words which once could be used openly now have an unacceptable connotation and cannot be used at all even in polite company. It appears that what has changed over time is the definition of obscenity.

    I can still remember my Grandmother, who was born around 1899, calling me a ’young buggaro’ as a term of affection and when my Mother, born in 1918, who reserved as an angry outburst of anger for when I had done something wrong, called me a:’little bleeder’.

    Interestingly there are nowadays still some words which I must neither mouth or write for fear of retribution from the authorities or society. I could perhaps have got away with the use of the ‘f’’ word and the ‘c’ word in this article but I would not dare to use in modern parlance some of the words which once, in the days of my youth, had an every day usage but which in modern parlance are strictly forbidden because of their connotation with prejudice.

    It is funny how times change, as is reflected in day to day language, but it is very important that I, and other writers, recognise the changes,

    DV






    Last edited by Divus; November 6th, 2013 at 08:39 AM.

  2. #2
    Dear Fellow Members, I have been advised that I got near the limit of offence with this thread but please take no offence where none was meant. I was merely trying to illustrate how language changes along with attitudes. I must thank the mods for not banning the thread altogether. We oldies find ourselves on an every day basis out of tune with modern thinking. Sorry, Divus

  3. #3
    Nicely put, Divus.

    Quote Originally Posted by Divus View Post
    Dear Fellow Members, I have been advised that I got near the limit of offence with this thread...
    That's bleedin' outragoeus. How could anything you penned above be thought of as offensive?

    Divus, you have a few years on me, not many but a few.

    But I concur. When I was seven I was beaten for saying 'hell'.


    ...some of the words which once, in the days of my youth, had an every day usage but which in modern parlance are strictly forbidden because of their connotation with prejudice.
    I take issue with this practice of attributing prejudice to words. Who is the arbitrator in such matters? I have no intention of offending anyone, but it has become quite common for persons to decide quite innocuous words offensive. It shouldn't be automatic to attribute a word to prejudice.

    Anyway, everybody has prejudices. What is unacceptable is to promote hatred based on prejudice.

    If you don't like broccoli don't go round burning down broccoli farms. Eat sprouts instead...well, maybe not sprouts...sprouts should be exterminated.

  4. #4
    Nice piece Divus, it seems to me that all words are continually changing, but swear words appear to change more rapidly than most. It is pure hypothesis but I wonder if it is because they are part of an oral tradition that rarely gets written down, common nouns certainly change at a much faster rate in a non-literate society. The other things about the class division you mention were physical mobility and dress. A man from New Cross wore a cap, and one from Palmers Green a trilby, if you were inappropriately dressed for the area you were likely to be stopped by a policeman who would ask if he could assist you, or what you thought you were doing there, according to the direction of the inappropriateness. London was much more like a conglomeration of separate villages, and without personal transport people rarely moved out of their own area other than to work.
    I take issue with this practice of attributing prejudice to words. Who is the arbitrator in such matters? I have no intention of offending anyone, but it has become quite common for persons to decide quite innocuous words offensive. It shouldn't be automatic to attribute a word to prejudice.
    I can see the temptation qwerty, personally I tend to mock it. There was a thread recently where someone mentioned that an edition of Mark Twain's huck Finn was proposed in which the word 'nigger' was expurgated. Twain was no racist, read 'Pudding head Wilson', and in his day 'nigger' was simply a word derived from Latin meaning with black skin, by the 1930's the racists had taken it over and the US government decided to replace it with the word 'negro' which was not deemed derogatory. Now I see that 'negro' is to be replaced by 'Person of African origin'. I went to a wedding a little while ago, a large extended family, originally from the West Indies, looking around I reckon they should be classed as 'People of European, African, Indian and Chinese origin, and I doubt that many black Americans are purely of African origin, look at them, most look nothing like the people from Ghana and Nigeria I see, and there must be some whose skin shade has nothing to do with African ancestors at all. Reclaim the words I say, it made me smile a little while ago to hear a music producer, the old Etonian son of a noble family, greet a lead guitarist, ginger with that creamy white complexion you rarely see outside Scotland, with "Hey nigger!" and a high five, but why not, his noble birth doesn't prejudice me. It is context and tone that makes things offensive, I could say 'mentor' in a way that made it sound like something that crawled on its belly just as he made 'nigger' sound like joyous reunion.
    A Read for the Train, a collection of short stories, flash fiction and verse.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle
    Now I see that 'negro' is to be replaced by 'Person of African origin'. I went to a wedding a little while ago, a large extended family, originally from the West Indies, looking around I reckon they should be classed as 'People of European, African, Indian and Chinese origin, and I doubt that many black Americans are purely of African origin, look at them, most look nothing like the people from Ghana and Nigeria I see, and there must be some whose skin shade has nothing to do with African ancestors at all.

    This fact alone makes mockery of any generic term at all. Travel and interbreeding create a real situation that is so complicated a 'cover word' is insufficient though apparently such a vacant term is needed and will probably remain in style. Any form of organization is better than no organization at all, it would seem.

    I think that swear words may change more quickly than others in part because they are a subculture of the language and have to attract followers with novelty. An idea.

    And Divus the OP was very good, they are issues and realities that one should keep an eye on.

    The truth is such a precious thing it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies.

    Winston Churchill.

  6. #6
    Travel and interbreeding create a real situation that is so complicated a 'cover word' is insufficient though apparently such a vacant term is needed
    Homo Sapiens, coloquially referred to as 'people' or 'humans', I recognise them, I am one myself.
    We oldies find ourselves on an every day basis out of tune with modern thinking.
    I can relate to this, but I find it is only in some areas, often I am taken very seriously by younger people, unless they are just pandering to the old so and so of course.
    A Read for the Train, a collection of short stories, flash fiction and verse.
    http://www.lulu.com/shop/oliver-buck...-18812406.html
    Piglet's picks. http://www.writingforums.com/threads...Piglet-s-Picks

  7. #7
    Divus, What are you doing with this piece? Will you publish it as a blog post, an article, or is it a part of something else?

    The line at the end of the first paragraph: [would have resulted in painful corporal punishment including detention and perhaps even caning.] does not logically/ technically work. This is not an issue for me, except that you are writing a rather technical piece on language. Detention is not a subset of corporal punishment, but caning is. A stronger, or rather, a more correct way to say it would be: ...would have resulted in detention, painful corporal punishment perhaps even caning. This way the punishment would have built in intensity. Detention is the least severe, painful corporal punishment is strong and supported by the severe act of caning.

    And just for fun... well never mind. I was going to add my two cents on language changes in the States since the 50s, but will probably just get myself in trouble. I enjoyed your piece.

  8. #8
    My grandfather who was born in the 1850s, YES! the 1850's - he died in 1952 aged 101, whenever he was angry would say 'hook it' which I believe was a form of 'sling your hook'. When annoyed with someone he'd say 'Away and fry your face'.

    English is a living language and it is changing all the time and it is not just in swearing - what happened to calling someone, a square, see/dig you later alligator, and TTFN? all these sayings were popular in my youth, yet you never hear them now.

    I think the widespread use of foul language has a lot to do with the media and the shock value of using and getting away with It.

  9. #9
    Jason asks what I am going to do with the piece. Well the answer is: "zilch". I have amended the early paragraph as was correctly suggested by him otherwise, I shall file it away in the laptop - as I do with all my work. Anyway, "Ta" for the comments. Dv

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