commendatory cursing, plus F-word frequency, ca1913.

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Jul 18 16:12:57 UTC 2007

John R. Lucy (ca1894-1962) left his native Cork to enlist in the Royal Irish Rifles of the British Army in 1912. As its name suggests, the regiment was overwhelmingly Irish. Lucy's memoir of that period, including his service in the First World War, appeared in 1938 under the title _There's a Devil in the Drum_ (rpt. Uckfield, E. Sussex: Military & Naval Press, 2003).  Former Private Lucy makes the following observations in ref. to 1912:

  "Then there were certain rules as to the nature of verbiage - one might call a fellow a bastard or use the most offensive personal terms without hurt, but one could not in any way refer to a mother or a sister, though the indirect 'son of a bitch' was an accepted form of reproach, and even of endearment" (p. 45).

  From pp 23-24, an observation about other colorful language. It contradicts the notion that the careless use of the "f-word" as modifier orginated during World War I. (The Australians specifically are sometimes blamed for the introducing the habit.)

  "Our Dublin friends blasphemed softly and easily, and the slum adjective for fornication preceded every noun they uttered. The staccato talk of the northerners was interspersed with obscure or obscene words, which we soon discovered was simply the mode and entirely meaningless."

  Here, coincidentally, is a confirmatory statement from an English writer concerning the same period. C. R. Benstead's book, _Retreat: A Novel of 1918_ (N.Y,: Century, 1930), is fiction, but the following passage may be presumed to accurately reflect Benstead's impressions of male working-class speech nearly a century ago, in 1914-15:

  "Their language, I know, is filthy, but it means nothing. Padre, just after I joined up, in the ranks, I traveled in a railway carriage with two other fellows newly caught like myself, and I counted the number of times they used a certain vile word either as a verb or a participle. In a four and a half minute run between two stations, they used it ninety-two times, and one, not content with applying it to his father whom he appeared to love quite dearly, applied italso to the girl he was enagged to marry.  So when you hear men using obscentites almost every other word, as you certainly will if you ever move among them, just reflect that it is...natural for them to do so" (p. 236).


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