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!
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!