Bad words

Duane Campbell dcamp911 at JUNO.COM
Sat Jul 6 03:20:37 UTC 2002

On Fri, 5 Jul 2002 22:18:29 -0400 "Bethany K. Dumas"

> My 15-year-old grandson asked his mother a question that she passed
> on
> to me to answer, and I don't know the answer.  How did bad words get
> to
> be bad?

A few months ago at a village council meeting a councilman in a Dickie's
shirt and Cat hat told a citizen to get her "fat ass" out of the room.
Our local newspaper was just stunned by these words and editorialized
about the collapse of civilization. I was allowed a guest editorial,
which I attach below.



On September 27, 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, landed at Pevensey, in
the south of England. As a direct result of this thousand-year-old event,
The Daily Review in a recent story had to parenthetically mask a three
letter word (which, incidentally, was not a deleted expletive as reported
but rather a deleted noun) referring to a local resident's derriere and
its purported steatopygic condition.
Normandy is in France, and although William came from an immigrant family
(Norman is a corruption of Norsemen), he spoke French. After conquering
the German-speaking English (from Angles, a German tribe who had arrived
five hundred years earlier), William brought in his French cronies to
share in the spoils. There was no English language at this time, making
degrees in English literature in the 11th Century even more useless than
they are today.
It took two centuries for French to meld with German into English.
English is so rich in synonyms because it is a mixture of two different
languages, and often both French and German words for the same thing were
incorporated into it, but not necessarily with the same value.
During the formative centuries, the nobility spoke French, and German was
the language of the conquered peasants. As both groups came to speak the
same newly evolved language, words with French roots acquired a patrician
cachet while German root words for the same thing were rude (a French
word originally describing the unpolished ways of the peasants).
For that reason I can speak of a lady's derriere with impunity, even in a
family newspaper, but I cannot refer to it by its Germanic synonym
without it being obliterated by the well known parenthesized cliche. In
like manner I can defecate, copulate or condemn, as long as I do it in
French. The same words derived from German would not be allowed. They are
profane, coarse, or vulgar (all incidentally French words of
disapprobation originally describing the lower class).
For the same reason, today we eat pork from swine and beef from cows.
German speakers tended the farm animals and gave them their names, but
the French upper class ate the meat -- porc and boeuf as well as venison,
poultry, and mutton.
In the Bible the 3d Commandment proscribes using the name of God in
inappropriate ways. Aside from that, all other profanity is a cultural
phenomenon, essentially a tool of class discrimination. "Dirty" words
have no intrinsic taint. They have power only as we choose to give it to
them, and condemnation of certain words in favor of others meaning
exactly the same thing is historically elitist.
Had someone in Windham been asked to remove her derriere, it would have
been quite proper, even quaint, as far as the language is concerned. It
strikes me that a great deal of fuss is being made over a linguistic

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