martes, 12 de enero de 2010
History of Swearing
"Yielding and kindly as it may have been to them, men have not scrupled to cast
defiance and calumny upon this forbearing earth and to hurl hissing curses at its abundance and its pervading spirit of forgiveness. Not since the labour of men's
hands began have they ceased to furrow it with menace and sow it with imprecation, cursing while their very com ripens under midsummer skies, cursing as they gather in their store of wine and victual. What does it mean ? What can it mean ? Whence has it arisen, and whither does it tend? These are among the questions that have influenced the mind of the writer in considering the purview of his book.
The misfortune that is often experienced in handling any subject lying wide of the beaten track does not necessarily arise from the inherent viciousness of the
subject itself, but from the fact that a large number of people have previously arrived at painful impressions concerning it. It is therefore an obligation cast upon a writer to treat these preconceived notions with the utmost tenderness and respect. Personally one may hold the art of swearing in perfect indifference, being
neither among the number of swearers oneself nor having any very strong feeling of reprobation towards its more active adherents. But despite a certain inclination that we feel to apologise for what we hold to be the silliest of vices, we are forced to recollect that to many the offence will always appear in anything but a
trivial light. It is therefore obligatory upon us to abstain as far as possible from referring to expressions that are calculated to alarm. At the close of the last
century there existed a religious sect who were in favour of abandoning the use of clothing. Blake, the poet, was one of these enthusiasts, and his wife also.
The holders of this convenient doctrine were in the habit of presenting themselves in their households as naked as they were born. In so acting we may be sure they were only in keeping with their sober convictions, and that they were ready to maintain in argument the thorough soundness and consistency of their views. For aught we know to the contrary, this naked doctrine may of itself have been right, but the
misfortune which continued, and for the matter of that still continues, to be felt, was that by hi the larger portion of humanity retained a decided prejudice in
favour of apparel. So long as the disciple of the Adamite school was contented to denude himself in his own particular circle there may have been no positive
harm, but it would scarcely have been open to a member of that fraternity to have walked down Fleet Street like an ancient Briton. The thinker also who takes
upon himself to theorise in a manner apart from any considerable section of humanity, is no less bound to entertain a fitting respect for the notions, even to the mistaken notions, with which that section is animated. Whatever his own disposition towards an absolute freedom of expression, he is under the obligation of
attiring his ideas in the manner habituated to the tastes of his listeners.
Happily, however, there is possible a middle course. We need not grovel in the sinks and cellars, neither need we ruminate upon the house-tops. We can settle ourselves as it were, in that easy, neutral smoking-room of literature, where we can put off broadcloth for fustian ; and utter our heresies with still a chance left US of being forgiven. Here we may expect to meet only with that mature and seasoned criticism that holds the scale very evenly between the outspoken and the insolent. While by no means to be accounted friendly towards the vile excrescences of swearing, the
ordinary man of the world is not to be repelled by every street oath, or put to lasting confession by every passing word of unseemliness. To put it upon no higher ground than that of mere custom, it were too arrogant to assume abhorrence of a practice that is as trite and customary as the incidents of one's daily
p. s. In 1991 Rev. Ian Gregory, secretary of The Polite Society, proposes that existing swear-words are banished and replaced with “nice words like 'breadstick' and 'cotton socks'”. A spokesman for The National Campaign for Real Swearing responds by saying “The good reverend can go and fuck himself!”.