Bad words

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Mon Jul 8 15:24:51 UTC 2002

Campbell's editorial is embarrassingly inaccurate in a number of ways. (E.g., DEFECATE is not a word borrowed from French; the language of 11th century England was English, NOT German; etc.) It would be a good exam question for a History of English course to ask a class to point out all the errors in this little piece.

In a message dated Fri, 5 Jul 2002 10:20:37 PM Eastern Standard Time, Duane Campbell <dcamp911 at JUNO.COM> writes:

>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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