I solemnly swear!

11 Sep

The other day I heard some Peterborough youths of the breed known as “Chav” say something really idiotic. Nothing unusual about that, you may think, but this was idiotic enough to make me think of an article!

I won’t tell you what the remark was until the end but I’m sure you’ll see how it set me off.

My upbringing was not “posh” and my parents’ house for the first ten years of my life was decidedly “modest”. It was a Victorian three bedroom terraced house with no central heating, an outside toilet and a bathroom that was, basically, a big cupboard with a bath in it. No hot water – you had to boil the kettle several times for THAT. It wasn’t the best neighbourhood in the town but it wasn’t the worst either.

The Primary school I attended served a large council estate but in those days there was no stigma attached to that, although even then there were starting to be “good council estates” and “bad council estates”! This one was one of the good ones – I THINK it had been built post-war to accommodate families that had been “bombed out” and the new families of returning servicemen.

What I’m saying is that it wasn’t a “rough” upbringing on some sort of “sink” estate – if it had been I would probably have turned out totally different and wouldn’t be writing this! It was rough enough, however, for me to have my share of scraps with a couple of rowdies from my street and a solitary school bully who lost a front tooth in our encounter. An ordinary, typical 1950s childhood in other words.

Looking back on it now, however, there was one thing that was missing from my life and the lives of my contemporaries at that school that is taken for granted now – bad language!

We seemed to get along quite well without swearing – if you hit your thumb with a hammer you just said “Oww!” with no need to modify it with an additional word of the sort that would get you a seriously hard smack around the ear should a parent overhear it. Indeed I don’t think I actually KNEW any of those words at that time!

My Dad had been in the army so I’m certain he would have known them all but he made a point never to use them at home so I just didn’t have the opportunity to learn of their existence. And neither, I suspect, did many of my classmates – any that did know them would have kept quiet about it because to be caught uttering one would have got you a thick ear from a teacher (and your parents would have backed the teacher up as well)!

It was not until the advent of Alf “you bloody silly moo!” Garnett and Kenneth Tynan – famed as the first man to say “F**k” on the BBC (although it has to be said NOT as a swear word but as a verb associated with sexual intercourse) that these words started to be heard by me in regular conversation as rather inappropriate adverbs.

And it was not until I got to Secondary school (all boys as you’ll know if you’ve been paying attention!) that I got to know the one remaining taboo of TV and Radio – “the C-word”. And even then, that was only because our rather unpopular Deputy Head – who for reasons unknown to me rejoiced in the nickname of “Fairy” – had himself immortalised in large painted letters on the back of the Girls’ school cycle shed in the words “Fairy is a c**t”! It was there for YEARS!

Looking at what I’ve written so far I see that I am a victim of my own upbringing in that I still feel odd about writing the “F word” as anything but “f**k” and although “bloody” and “arse” get past my self-censor alright the words “c**t” and “s**t” somehow don’t. I’ll let the psychologists of the world work out why that is – I don’t want to know!

Let’s look (with asterisks as needed) at these words that have crept into our daily vocabulary to the point where many people don’t seem to be able to speak a sentence without including one.

Basically they break into two groups, blasphemous and biological.

The former include “bloody” (believed to be a contraction of “By our lady” – a reference to the Virgin Mary) and the variations on Jesus – “Christ almighty” etc.

The biological group tend to subdivide into body parts and bodily functions and I’ll leave it to you to work out which is which. However, can anyone tell me why the euphemism for defecation is regarded as a swear word while its urinary equivalent is used merely as a way of indicating either that it is raining hard or that one is drunk?

I have trouble working out why either group should, in this day and age, have “forbidden words” – for blasphemy to have any meaning you A) have to believe in a god small minded enough to think that the use of certain words would be offensive to him/her/it and B) believe that the deity in question DID indeed hand down the list of words so classified rather than it being dreamed up by a priest looking for another way to be sadistic to his “flock”- which I believe is more likely.

Similarly, there are alternative biological words for every single word in that category considered a “swear word” none of which have the same impact – so why do these ones? Try using the Latin term instead of the Anglo-Saxon and you just sound like a doctor!

Anyway, if you’ve stuck with me you will recall that I started this because of something I overheard a youth of the type who does make every other word a swear word saying to his friend.

They were sitting in the city centre and looking at a small group of monks who had passed them en-route for the Cathedral. I doubted that they knew what monks were (some new kind of rival “hoodie” gang perhaps) but obviously some facts had got through about the way of life involved for this semi-literate berk came out with an excessively loud remark.

It was this:

“You wouldn’t catch me being fucking celibate!”

I nearly wet myself!

Ooops! I just said f**king!

Oh, what the heck!



Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “I solemnly swear!

  1. Mike

    September 13, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I use all the usual “religious” swear-words even though I’m an Atheist and proud of it (hence the capital “A”) – it’s just traditional. As for the “toilet” words and the “F” and “C” – they’re good old Anglo-Saxon.

    However, I’m reminded of something someone once said: “The “F” word makes a good exclamation mark – but a bad comma.” A rule to live by, I think.

    I mean, when you slip with that chainsaw and lop off a limb, “Oh, botheration” just don’t MAKE it. But when people who use the “F” and “C” words twice in every sentence REALLY wish to express themselves, what do they have left?

  2. littlealfie

    September 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    I always look forward to your responses as reassurance that “it’s not just me”!

  3. ROD

    May 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    I agree, even though I am at times guilty, that excessive expletives are nothing but crass.

    With regard to the etymology behind acceptable and unacceptable synonyms, it all comes down to the Norman invasion over a thousand years ago.

    The Norman terms, most closely related to Latin, were perceived as high class. The Anglo-Saxon terms were seen as low class.

    Over a thousand years later and we still bow to this ludicrous inheritance. This affects other terms apart from expletives, for example the Norman equivalent for pig (or at least its evolved version). Pig comes from the Anglo-Saxons and would be slaughtered and prepared in the kitchens of the time. Once served to their “betters”, the nobles would refer to “pork”. Directly derived from Latin.

    Nicely written article, by the way.


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