25 October, 2005

Cussing Is A Classist Plot

I have had this theory for years. And I'm revisiting it now because this post over at Voice Of Hope sparked the thought in my brain. And then I remembered that this very day was chastened for dropping the f-bomb.

Crap, sh*t, dang, damn, f***, bloody.... Who determines these words and their meanings? Where did they originate and how?

My mom used to call this stuff "barnyard talk. You could say "urinate" but not "piss". You could say "defecate" but not "crap" or "sh!t". And of course there's "make love, have intercourse, have sex" but no eff words allowed. My personal favourite was that under no circumstance could we utter the word "fart". Instead we had to say "stinker" or "pass gas". There really are no words for how it cracks me up to hear my 33-year old attorney brother say "who stinkered?"

It always struck me as curious. If the words mean the same thing, why is one okay but the other is rude-low-off colour? Personally I blame the French and the Catholic Church. In thinking about it some more, all of the baddie phonemes condemed to the gutter seem to be good old Anglo-Saxon/Old English words. Some examples:

Shit: Shit is a very old word, with an Old English root. *ScĂ­tan is the Old English word. It has cognates in most of the other Germanic languages and shares a common Germanic root with modern equivalents like the German scheissen.

See You Next Tuesday (Sorry...I can't stand this word at all): This word for the female genitalia dates back to the Middle English period, c.1325. (Although researchers have found a London street named Gropecuntelane from c. 1230.) Although the word cannot be traced back further than this, there are cognates in a variety of other Germanic languages, indicating a Germanic origin.

It does not come from the Latin cunnus, which is also a term for the female pudenda, although a common root back in the mists of time cannot be discounted. Use of the word as term of abuse for a woman is a 20th century sense, dating to 1929.

F**K Yeah, despite what Van Halen thinks, the origin of this word has nothing to do with carnal knowledge--legal or otherwise. There are whole books about the subject but Word Origins says :

The root is undoubtedly Germanic, as it has cognates in other Northern European languages: Middle Dutch fokken meaning to thrust, to copulate with; dialectical Norwegian fukka meaning to copulate; and dialectical Swedish focka meaning to strike, push, copulate, and fock meaning penis. Both French and Italian have similar words, foutre and fottere respectively. These derive from the Latin futuere.

While these cognates exist, they are probably not the source of f***, rather all these words probably come from a common root. Most of the early known usages of the English word come from Scotland, leading some scholars to believe that the word comes from Scandinavian sources. Others disagree, believing that the number of northern citations reflects that the taboo was weaker in Scotland and the north, resulting in more surviving usages. The fact that there are citations, albeit fewer of them, from southern England dating from the same period seems to bear out this latter theory.

Piss Word Origin: 1250-1300 ME (Middle English) pissen

Fart Word Origin: Old English feortan

And so forth. So what do the French and the Church have to do with it? My theory goes like this. The Normans invade Britain, conquering the land in 1066. Along with their Norman aristocracy and official Anglo-Norman Court Language they brought closer ties to The Continent and the Holy Roman Church. The proper way for ladies and gentlemen to speak was either the cultured Anglo-Norman way or the Learned Latin way of the Church. You know all those fine Latin and French words. Like "urinate"; "defecate"; "intercourse". So here we are, nearly a thousand years after the Norman Conquest, still afraid to speak the language of a conquered people. Still playing kiss-up to the King.

And in case anyone is wondering why I still censored some of the words in this post...I don't want to get the "Explicit Content" label on Patrick and Lydia's blog. It'd break my heart. By the way, my sister apologises to you, Patrick, for using the word "A-----le" in the comments the other day. That word derives from the Old English ears, as opposed to the very correct French term "Derriere".


At 7:11 AM, October 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a discussion somewhere about why f**k is considered such a bad word when it denotes such a great experience. Beyond that it was less informative than your linguistic comments.


At 7:34 AM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

You have done us all a great service, Katherine. I will now confidently try and work these words into more conversations.

At 7:48 AM, October 26, 2005, Anonymous Sarcastro said...

Fuck the French.

At 8:06 AM, October 26, 2005, Blogger HUCK said...

Sacre Bleu!

This is tres interesting...
...and makes good sense, too.

Have you ever noticed how the French prefer to use blasphemy, instead of bodily functions, whenever they curse?

The fuck'n heatherns.

At 9:46 AM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Lee said...

In the King James Bible, doesn't King Ahab 'piss' over a wall? I think so.

At 10:15 AM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Casey said...

Heh, I've always thought this one of the more peculiar human eccentricities.

I'm a fan of the Harry Potter series and whenever I come across a passage in which someone gasps, shudders or shrieks and the mention of the name Voldemort I tend to giggle and think to myself "How silly, people wouldn't really act like that when hearing a particular word in real life?". Ridikulous! And then I consider the reaction of an uncensored Howard Stern speaking in front of an FCC advisory panel and imagining them passing out, gasping for breath, or running on horror from the room. People are silly.

What's even funnier about this post is that Katherine has taken the time to shield our tender eyes by arranging the letters in such a way that we have to decipher the word in our heads. We can't say them or spell them! As Ralphie said: "Aw Fuuuuuuuuuudge"!

At 12:26 AM, October 27, 2005, Anonymous tom said...

There's nothing more charming and colorful than class warfare. Given my proper upbringing, I still kind of sick up when people talk about taking a sh*t instead of the milder "going to the bathroom."

I've been taught that it's improper, but I've always inferred that people who talk "that way" are ignorant hicks.


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