My daughters think their generation invented the “F word” but back in the 70s my world was full of Fucking Cunts [things were less PC then] and shitty dicks [not usually meant literally] and crappy twats [again, less PC and not literal] and, from what I’ve read, the 60s and even the 50s were fairly four-lettered too.
However, as in most middle class baby-boomer households, obscenities were unknown while I was growing up – Hell’s Bells, Darn it and the occasional Bloody [invariably followed by Excuse my language but really, it’s the absolute limit!] – and we genuinely believed swearing was the sign of a poor vocabulary and a limited intellect.
After a brief period at Rhodes during which which a sentence wasn’t complete without the words ‘like’ and fuck’ and, to a lesser extent ‘you know’ [all courtesy the boyfriend] I reverted to my customary ‘jolly’ and ‘bother’ and – in extreme cases – ‘Botheration!’.
Some will aver they have heard the phrase ‘Bloody Hell’ leave my lips and I have certainly, very occasionally, had recourse to the expletive “Clucking Bell!” but generally my speech is so mild it bores even toddlers.
Words exist to be used however, and to avoid them unreasonably is to give them too much power: on the one hand we have speech that sheds blasphemies and obscenities like a chemotherapy patient sheds hair, and on the other hand we have an irritating mealy-mouthed prissiness combined with the new PC.
“Oh botheration – that’s not on! What a horrid man” indicates a poor vocabulary and a limited intellect when what is called for is “Oh Shit – that’s total crap! What a fucking wanker!” Sometimes, I fear, there are no words adequate to the circumstances other than obscenities. And I have had that sort of week.
Never mind that for now – my hobby horse today is language, good and bad. In Pre-Modern History [ i.e. the 70s] euphemisms were frowned upon as being overly ‘nice’ and frightfully lower class.
It started in nursery school [no Grade 0 or any such nonsense then: when you were ready you went to school, any age from four to seven years old, and continued until Matric, depending on what school you went to.
Now people ask for ‘the bathroom’ – as if your average restaurant has a bath for the use of customers who feel grubby. In my day the lower orders whispered about ‘the toilet’. In fact, many contemporaries still use that tek for lavatory but anyone who went to my school – or has read Nancy Mitford – knows how frightfully non-U and lower class ‘the toilet’ is.
The Loo or the Lav or even the WC is fine; The Ladies not so much. For men there’s the Pisser [or Pissoir if you want to be pretentious], the Bogs, the Jake, the John [both sexes use this], and The Shitter.
In Fairly Ancient English History – Tudor to 18th Century – even the prissy Protestants were fairly open about their needs: There was none of this ‘make water’, and ‘bowel movement’ or ‘pass wind’ stuff: everyone pissed, crapped and farted and it was not seen as cause for huge embarrassment.
Naturally, these are not functions one wishes to perform in company – although men appear to have no problem doing lots of stuff best kept private rather than out in the open – but until recently everyone happily accepted they were part of life.
However, if you never use the lavatory and only go to the bathroom, that’s your affair. But please just don’t tell me your dead uncle is ‘late’. And don’t tell me he ‘passed on’ or was ‘called away’. Or that he went to ‘his Reward’, or ‘was Gathered’.
He died. He is no longer, He is not ‘sleeping’ or ‘at rest’ – he’s dead. It’s probably healthier for you if you accept that simple fact of life because you have to accept he’s not coming back.
Of modern niceties, those surrounding sex are possibly the most irritating. Death, lavatorial functions and sexual relations are the most natural activities – essential in fact – yet they re the vwry ones mankind wishes to shroud in obfuscating verbiage.
Once Homo Sapiens lived in extended familial communities; I like to think of them in a big cave – guards sit around a fire at the entrance and the children sleep at the back. The adults lie together, near their children, having sex, giving birth, dying, even shitting and peeing when conditions are too hostile for them to go outside in the dark.
Today, the poor live in much the same environment, minus perhaps the fire and the guards. Children in squatter camps know babies are not bought by the stork or found under a cabbage – they see their mothers conciee, give birth, and all too often die.
Middle class South Africans know all about sex and procreation and sexuality and gender and prophylactics and STD s – Life Orientation is a compulsory subjct in all,schoold: yet teenage pregnancy and unprotected sex are a curse despite sex education, the free availability of condoms, and abortion on demand.
And how does this happen? People ‘sleep’ with each other. In my day people slept with each other, they shared a bed – male and female – but that did not mean they had Sex. Unwanted pregnancies and STDs were often the result of different sexes using the same lavtories [don’t even ask] but never from ‘sleeping together’.
I ‘slept’ with several boyfriends. We left the door open so my prowling father could check on us, and it was usually head to foot, but we slept. No-one gets pregnant that way: they get pregnant from having sex. Having sex is not the same as ‘making love’. And making love does not always result in people having sex.
Impregnation generally involves penetration and ejaculation, forcible or voluntary: Making Love is another euphemism which means everything and nothing, depending on whether it represents a long lasting intellectual, spiritual and physical commitment, or just a quick screw.
Have sex, sleep together, make love, screw, fuck – even the Middle English swyve – please don’t tell me that sleeping together will result in either pregnancy o venereal disease. Yikes – what exactly were you doing to that seat?
Euphemisms suck big time – and by ‘suck’ I am in no way referring to Fellatio.
‘Sleeping’ with someone you love who has ‘passed away’ is very different to having energetic sex with [ie fucking, screwing or swyving] a corpse. Not to mention that ‘sleeping’ with a dead person – Necrophilia- [read Browning’s My Last Duchess for the more romantic version]is not only illegal it is also, arguably, unnatural.
It’s a funny old world where blasphemy and explicit words for urine and excreta are bandied about quite freely. But God forbid you admit to having been to the lavatory, having had sex or, in extremis, having died.