Tuesday, 27 April 2010

It's only words by Lynda Waterhouse

About once every five years I go to a football match. I went on Saturday. Our team were doing badly and the three gentlemen in front of me were compelled to hurl advice to the players accompanied by a dazzling array of oaths and expletives. As the match improved so did their vocabulary.
The next day in a charity shop I found a book called The Future of Swearing by Robert Graves. It was the revised edition from 1936 – the original being written ten years earlier.
Graves maintains that ‘swearing has a definite physiological function… and that silence under suffering is sometimes impossible.’ The challenge for me as a writer is finding the right words to express those intense situations.
In the Sand Dancers series ,which tells the story of the mysterious sand sprites, my characters express themselves emotionally through dancing often accompanied by a chant or a song. When they are angry they perform a Rage Stomp’
‘Rat a tat rage
Rat a tap rage
Feelings surge like an angry wave’
They also do Frustration Flips' and occasionally a character will say ‘Galloping sea spiders!’ Influenced I think by Restoration fops and childhood sayings that I recall such as ‘crumbs and crikey bobs!’
Graves goes on to say ‘Words that mustn’t be used, have a natural fascination for children, as of magical power. ' He quotes an East End rhyme,
‘Pa’s out and Ma’s out, let’s talk dirt!
Pee-poh-belly-bottom-drawers.’
As a young child in infant class I have a vivid memory of a teacher reading the A.A. Milne poem, ‘Furry Bear’ and the whole class screaming with delight as the teacher read out the phrase ‘brown furry knickers.’ We made her repeat the poem again and again shaking with delight and anticipation. She explained the different meaning of the word but we didn’t care. We had got our teacher to say a rude word.
Graves ends the book with an account of a memory of a pirate story he had read as a child written by G.A Henty.
‘Caramba,’ hissed Diego, swearing terribly’
This word was so shocking to him that he didn’t dare wonder what it meant. Later on when he heard the word spoken by a priest it had the force and intonation of ‘Dear me!’ Job done!

6 comments:

嘉容嘉容 said...

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Elen Caldecott said...

I have a real soft spot for football terrace shouts - it's the interesting bit of games as far as I'm concerned. And husband makes me watch a lot of them. Not kind, but funny, was the Celtic supporters chant on the news that their keeper had been diagnosed bipolar 'There's only two Andy Gorams'.

Katherine Langrish said...

Lovely - very funny!

steeleweed said...

Graves was right about the value of taboo in coping with strong emotions. Sometimes you either curse or have a heart attack.

It's interesting what words each culture finds offensive. There are words commonly used in the UK which are seldom used in the US (and therefore have much greater shock value when they are used).

For some reason, imprecations are much less inventive in English than many other languages. You'll never hear a Brit or Yank saying someone's mother cohabitated with diseased goats, being led thereto by her grandmother's syphillitic dog.

steeleweed said...

Graves was right about the value of taboo in coping with strong emotions. Sometimes you either curse or have a heart attack.

It's interesting what words each culture finds offensive. There are words commonly used in the UK which are seldom used in the US (and therefore have much greater shock value when they are used).

For some reason, imprecations are much less inventive in English than many other languages. You'll never hear a Brit or Yank saying someone's mother cohabitated with diseased goats, being led thereto by her grandmother's syphillitic dog.

Brian Keaney said...

I really enjoy swearing. I think it's a very basic human urge. So I was not surprised to learn that it is handled by a different part of the brain from all other language. It's a lower brain activity whereas language is a left hemisphere activity. And apparently the brain stores swear words as whole units rather than as groups of phonemes.