It’s All Just Words

Reading & Writing

 

Pressing The Nib

I’m bored of writing about illness so let’s discuss more interesting subjects.

Did the above sentence bother you? The ‘of’ instead of ‘with’? I notice the Youngs are using it. Does it matter? The flickering intricacies of the English language would test the patience of a poet. We learn to write in one style and are shocked when we discover another.

So it is with delight that I’ve realised my great friend Evrim sends emails to me written in Edwardian English. His touch is so light that at first I didn’t notice. He writes, entirely unconsciously, ‘Tell me of Barcelona. I am afraid to visit, lest the changes prove too heartbreaking.’

I think we should all speak like this; the Edwardians were succinct and stylish and to the point. ‘I shall draw myself a bath, the better to exude last night’s intake of champagne.’ ‘Today I shall be keeping an open bed.’ We could all be characters from Mike Leigh’s ‘Topsy Turvey’. It would make the world a gentler, more thoughtful place.

Of course, British coarseness can also be a delight. Some of my readers feel compelled to email me in a sort of ‘Bridgerton’ patois, especially the Canadians, who imagine I am seated at my desk dressed as Charles Dickens. So when fans started posting kind remarks about a recent photograph – one suggested I looked ‘ready to press the nib to a fresh page,’ a British chap wrote, ‘Blimey, you look good for 68. I’m 53 and look like a fucking potato.’

To the point.

 

Bloody Hell!

I feel I must always respect the power of words because I feel a family connection to Fowler’s English (1906). His tirades against bad habits in English stay with me now.

The word ‘Bloody’, technically a swear word because it distantly references the blood of Christ, is one of the most heavily used intensifiers in English, but its power has been eroded. Now a mild expression of surprise; ‘Bloody Hell!’ it is a substitute for ‘very’. There’s a theory that it’s a contraction of ‘By Our Lady’, a phrase which was popular with Shakespeare and Jonathan Swift.

By why did it have the power to shock, right up until the 1960s? A ‘blood’ was a young rake, out to raise hell. There was certainly a link to religion. Also, it might have become associated with the idea of menstruation. But most likely the population simply needed to create its own vulgarisms. Crikey and Blimey (both traceable to religious blasphemies) have vanished in my lifetime, just as Britain has become a secular nation. The once familiar cry of ‘Oh Gawd Blimey’ (‘God blind me’) is no longer heard.

Anyway, ‘Bloody’ is now dying out. In 1994, it was the most commonly spoken swear word, accounting for around 650 of every million words spoken in the UK – 0.064 per cent. In second place was ‘fuck’, at more than 550 per million, with ‘shit’ the third most rife, at around 150 per million. 

‘Fuck’, previously confined to use as a verb, blossomed in the 1990s and became universal, largely because it had been popularised by America in music videos and films, where imaginative new usage developed. 

Will ‘bloody’ go the way of ‘bugger’? Most likely, as the rollout of a universal language culled from TV and music continues its inexorable sweep. A pity; such words feel positively quaint and enjoy great usage in the Fowler household.

 

World Power

Husband Pete has a clear-eyed and rather contemptuous attitude when it comes to Britain’s pompous opinion of itself, and I find it quite hard to disagree with him. A class-bound, irrelevant island that failed, from Suez to Brexit, to find its place in the postwar world, its people are generous and decent, its governments unscrupulous and incompetent. When we look back, we may find that our two most important postwar prime ministers were, like it or not, Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher. There would have to be a competition for the worst but Cameron and Bozo would, I suppose, be the front-runners.

Our Foreign Office has a history of delay and reversal. It has a shameful record in sending back Afghan refugees and is now suddenly required to reverse this policy, which hardly bodes well for those seeking asylum.

The war for Afghanistan has only just begun. The players are not yet all in place but they’re certain not to include the UK. It may soon prove that the West itself is shut out. China, Russia and India are vying for Taliban favours. China already owns swathes of land it hasn’t been able to strip-mine for precious minerals – an estimated £1 trillion lies beneath the rock. As usual, it all comes down to money.

Here in the UK MPs returned from summer recess to find Kabul fallen and a Foreign Secretary on holiday. Many were devastated by the details that were revealed about the coup. One listens to others speaking about ‘sovereignty’ and ‘special relationships’ and has to bite back bitter laughter. When it comes to trade, the ‘special relationship’ with the US is long dead and the only other route – to Europe – is a bridge that was burned by Brexit.

We now need to accept our new lowly position in the world. In other words, we’re fucked.

57 comments on “It’s All Just Words”

  1. Ed+DesCamp says:

    Stu-I-Am: how could you leave out “backpfeifengesicht”?

  2. Helen+Martin says:

    Okay, what is that one then, Ed. I took it apart and got a visible back(?)flute or possibly a wind in your eye? a visible fart?

  3. Ed+DesCamp says:

    I believe it roughly translates as having a face in need of a punch…

  4. Helen+Martin says:

    Looking for an opportunity to use it, then. Thank you.

  5. Wayne+Mook says:

    Looked up things to do in Mablethorpe (mablethorpe.info)

    Autumn is also when the Mablethorpe Marathon is held. This popular event, known as ‘the friendly one’, offers a great opportunity to achieve a person best due to our unusually flat course. It was last run in 2016 and we hope to see it return soon.

    Says it all really, but there is the Mablethorpe Bike Night, I hear you shout.

    I’ve been reading Graham Chapman’s A Liar’s Autobiography Volume VI (Volume VII on the inside titles page.), he had some interesting things to say about the New Zealand licencing laws of the late 60s, they were very prohibitive; it seemed the local brewing trade backed the temperance movement’s stance on the stance on bars as they could make more money from selling bottled beer. It could of course be a lie.

    I’ve not been buying books due to lack of space, so with this in mind, when I went to town I only bought my daughter an old Dandy (2005 with the new whizzo Beryl the Peril – she now looks like the the old Beryl with proper pig tails. Sometimes progress can be reversed.) and a biography on Bernard Spilsbury the top pathologist in the UK for about 40 years in the 1st part of the C20th. (the Unpleasant Things on The Crumbles chapter has probably the nastiest disposal of a body. Mahon, a silver-tongues chancer, stated he did not use a cook’s knife to cut up a body [this would have shown premeditation, his defense was accidental death during a quarrel.] as ‘Emily Kaye had handled it, and for sentimental reasons he preferred to cut her up with the carving-knife belonging to the bungalow.’ Later he carried out the post-mortem on Mahon, he did others. His recommendation, with his friend coroner Bentley Purchase, actually meant the rope for hanging was increased by 3 inches on humanitarian grounds.)

    Wayne.

  6. I think I will have to make an effort to replace some fucks with bloody hells. I say bugger on a daily basis, as do most kiwis, so maybe we’ll take bloody and keep it safe and warm for you down here.

  7. Robert Lloyd says:

    My dad allowed himself a ‘Blast!’ once, after accidently hammering a nail into his finger. I always admired his restraint with swearing.

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