It’s a professional blog – I swear!
Ever since I discovered the word ‘grawlix’ was a sequence of typographical symbols used to represent a profane word I’ve wanted to blog about it.
But I’ve always hung back because of the tricky nature of writing about swear words in my professional blog.
Then earlier this month I spotted lexicographer and etymologist Susie Dent – AKA the Dictionary Doyenne from TV’s Countdown – had written a piece for the Independent on swearing so I finally gave myself permission.
Plus it’s very topical. As Susie points out: ‘Over one in a hundred words used on social media is now an expletive: unsurprising perhaps given they can squeeze high emotion into a minimum number of characters.’
But social media references are bringing us way up to date. I want to go back in time and look at some of the cusses and curses we’ve lost from our lexicon.
Fortunately Dr Todd Gray MBE has spent years researching British swear words which have fallen out of use resulting in his book ‘Strumpets and Ninnycocks - Name Calling in Devon, 1540-1640’.
Common themes included adultery and low intelligence (still common today) to well, witchcraft and disease which haven’t aged as well.
Some are fairly self-explanatory (‘Gouty-legged’), others are quite tame (‘Ninnyhammer’ for a fool) and others are very crude – or as Dr Gray puts it ‘fairly sharp and outrageous then, and people had to appear before the court for using them’.
Not so today, of course – a survey conducted by Lancaster University and the Cambridge University Press found British women now swear more often than British men, a shift dubbed ‘equal opportunity swearing’ by a Guardian journalist who also points out:
‘Speech changes, and previously unacceptable words become mainstream, because that is how language has always worked.’
But I still think some of the words unearthed by Dr Gray are pretty outrageous today.
So let’s end by dialling down the dissing a little with these 14 politely worded insults.
My favourite, given the July heatwave?
‘May both sides of your pillow be warm.’