Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Bad Language

There's a story in this morning's paper about Alastair Campbell's Diaries. Alastair Campbell was Tony Blair's polecat in chief and knows where all the bodies are buried. Will he be telling us? No. Apparently his record of the Blair years will be edited to remove anything spicy about  Blair's relationships with George Bush and Gordon Brown. He's also going to be going through it with a blue pencil- on his master's orders-  to remove all trace of Blair's copious swearing.

OK- I can understand the reticence about politicians who are still in the business of government- that's just good manners-  but the swearing thing is bizarre.  Everybody under sixty says "fuck" and "cunt".  Fucking this, fucking that-  it's  the lingua franca. You'd think Blair would be happy to have it revealed that he uses the same vocabulary as his subjects. 

But what's even odder is that we still regard such language as shocking. Little kids use it among themselves (and how!)  but it can't be broadcast on TV before 9 o'clock  in case their infant minds should be blasted. This "ooh matron!" reaction is not exactly hypocritical It's an involuntary, preconscious, atavistic thing.  It's more a case of our not having thought things through.

The boundaries of acceptable speech are always shifting. When I was a little kid "bloody" and "damn" were very bad words and I got into dreadful trouble for using them.  People avoided offence by using laughable homophones like "ruddy" and "darmed". These days blasphemy is acceptable.  Its charge  has faded with the power of the Church. "God" and "Jesus" are common expletives and as harmless as "O dear" or "bother".  

"Fuck and "cunt" came in out of the freezing cold with Lady Chatterley.  They were mainstream by the mid-80s. I was slow in the uptake and didn't start using them in everyday speech until c. 1990. Now my  conversation is as obscene as Tony Blair's.

A few more years and "fuck" and "cunt" won't cut it any more. They'll be as tame as "ruddy" and "damn". I wonder where we go next? Actually there's nothing out there that's still considered unsayable- except for the language of racial abuse- and that comes from rather a different place and has different applications. Maybe that's why we maintain the fiction that "cunt" and "fuck" are shocking; we're in imminent danger of running out of swear words.
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