Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Words, words, words.

We discussed the vagaries of the Italian political system in our Italian class yesterday and one of our number read out the contents of some cartoons she had found. Now, Angela is the sort of lady who just does not swear. She’s rather older than I am, very intelligent – I believe she read PPE at Oxford – and very well informed. But she is of the generation of educated, emancipated women who just don’t include swearing like a trooper in there idea of gender equality. She’s practically the first person I have met who is even less likely to swear than I am. And I have been known to cause laughter when I do swear; on one occasion in a departmental meeting at college I was provoked into uttering that expletive that begins with F***. The young teacher sitting next to me grinned broadly and turned to say to me, “Oh, say it again, Anthea, say it again!”

Anyway, Angela was reading out her cartoon and, from her script, read the word
“merda”. There was an almost audible but quite deliberate intake of breath as everyone was more than a little mock-shocked to hear such language from our very own Angela.

Coincidentally I seem to have been reading and hearing quite a lot about swearing recently. Mark Lawson was writing in the Guardian newspaper about how taboo words have been progressively losing their power. A judge has even ruled that swear words should not be considered offensive of it could be demonstrated that the speaker uses them so often that they are such a habitual part of his language that he doesn’t realise he is swearing. That sounds a bit like giving in to me! Mark Lawson wrote:

“Recently, in a move that still surprises me in retrospect with its potential riskiness, I asked a supporter at a League Two football match if he might consider minding his language. The bloke had been vocal throughout the first half, hollering the C-word and F-word in various combinations at the referee, assistant referee and the home team.

Although all 14 men had more than earned this derision by their performance, I was present at the game with a 12-year-old and there were other much younger children in what is commonly considered the family section of the ground. At half-time, in the queue for the loo, I mentioned to the man that, while there was widespread support for his views, it might be better for the children to hear a bit less swearing. His non-ironic response: "Swearing? I ain't been [sexual adjective] swearing, you [genital noun]."

I have had similar arguments with my teenage granddaughter who assures me that “bloody” and “damn” are not swear words at all. Maybe I am just getting old and cranky.

The BBC has been joining in with a featurette on Radio 4 about words that people use to replace swear words. “By the Duke of Argyll” was mentioned quite frequently. Many families have their own collection of such euphemisms. “Oh, bobbins!” and “Oh, poodle-droppings” have been heard in our house on a regular basis for quite some time. And the other day, in an attempt to put a stop to the use of “idiot”, “stupid” and so on, I persuaded the small grandchildren to come up with some new insults. It’s quite amusing to hear them say to each other, “You Thomas the Tank Engine”, “You Sponge Bob Square Pants” and “You Squidward”.

While new words are in the air, I note with interest that the Académie Française has just added some official neologisms to that wonderful language. They have always been picky about allowing foreign imports to be included in the official French vocabulary. Football and computer vocabulary has given them big headaches. But this article was about some interest
ing new additions to the language:

aigriculteur – a farmer (agriculteur) who is not happy with his lot and has become embittered (aigri)

phonard – a pejorative word for someone who overuses the mobile phone

photophoner - to take a photo with your mobile phone

ordinosore - an out of date computer (ordinateur + dinosaur)

The next two are my favourites:

bête seller – a particularly awful literary work that becomes an instant hit

attachiant – an adjective to describe someone you cannot live with but cannot live without. It combines attachant (endearing) with chiant (a bloody nuisance).

Getting back to Italian cartoons, here is one posted on Facebook by an Italian friend of mine:

The crusty old gent says to the small boy, “Just think, when I was your age, I was already working”. Small boys replies to crusty old geezer, “Just think, when I am your age, I will still be working”.

And that is one of the reasons why a reported 30,000+ people marched through Manchester today and through a whole lot more cities throughout the country. Time for the words of protest to be heard.

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