"uterus" an indecorous word? ("slut" in the news)

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Jul 9 15:52:06 UTC 2011

The manual I'm thinking of is A Treatise upon the law, Privileges,
Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, by Thomas Erskine May, who flourished
in the mid-19th C.  There is an edition digitized by Google Books, which
seems not to contain the list of unparliamentary expressions I remember, as
best I can tell from the Index, and searching the text doesn't show either
"impudent" or "young pup".
At one time I was the foremost expert at my library on using the records or
Parliament, a talent little utilized by the patrons and still less
appreciated by the administration.  I attained this status by looking at
Erskine May's Treatise, and some other guides.  I'm a bit disturbed by the
Google result, but such a list of expressions ruled out-or-order exists, and
I still say that it was in the edition of Erskine May that was current in
the late 1970s, and that one of the banned expressions was "impudent young

There seem to be no Parliamentarians in the mid-Hudson River Valley; SUNY
New Paltz doesn't have the book, and Vassar only has an edition from the mid
1920s.  This will have to wait until I get to my old library again, but
since my recollection of this list is now floating about the internet, I
need to verify it.  (Vassar thinks that ERskine May's last name is only May)

Stay tuned.


On Fri, Jul 8, 2011 at 1:26 PM, George Thompson <george.thompson at nyu.edu>wrote:

> The manual of parliamentary procedure used by the English Parliament has or
> had a half page of utterances that had been held to be undecorous, offensive
> or just plain unparliamentary.  If any parliamentarians have said "uterus",
> they got away with it.  The expressions I recall included "impudent young
> pup" and "elected by the refuse of a large constituency".
> The compiler of this manual was Erskine May (double last name).  Last
> looked at it no doubt 20 years ago, so maybe some choice things have been
> added to recent editions.
> On Fri, Jul 8, 2011 at 12:19 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg <
> nunberg at ischool.berkeley.edu> wrote:
>> File under "O Florida, Venereal Soil": The skittishness about saying
>> "slut" put me in mind of a story out of Florida a couple of months ago:
>> Democrat chastised for saying 'uterus' on House floor
>> ...At one point Randolph suggested that his wife "incorporate her uterus"
>> to stop Republicans from pushing measures that would restrict abortions. ...
>> Apparently the GOP leadership of the House didn't like the one-liner. They
>> told Democrats that Randolph is not to discuss body parts on the House
>> floor...
>> House GOP spokeswoman Katie Betta: "The Speaker has been clear about his
>> expectations for conduct on the House for during debate. At one point during
>> the debate, he mentioned to the entire House that members of both parties
>> needed to be mindful of decorum during debate.
>> "Additionally, the Speaker believes it is important for all Members to be
>> mindful of and respectful to visitors and guests, particularly the young
>> pages and messengers who are seated in the chamber during debates. In the
>> past, if the debate is going to contain language that would be considered
>> inappropriate for children and other guests, the Speaker will make an
>> announcement in advance, asking children and others who may be uncomfortable
>> with the subject matter to leave the floor and gallery."
>> http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/democrat-chastised-saying-uterus-house-floor
>> see also:
>> http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/06/2154351/from-the-florida-house-to-national.html
>> Geoff
>> > July 3:
>> >
>> > Tot-mom attorney Jose Baez claimed in his closing argument that his
>> client
>> > was being defamed as a "lying, no-good slut."  Later, the Headline News
>> team
>> > expressed amazement that producers had not bleeped the word. Jane
>> > Velez-Mitchell said she'd sought guidance about whether she could repeat
>> it
>> > on the air.
>> >
>> > In my day, though "slut" was obviously insulting (and thus "offensive"),
>> it
>> > was not usually thought to be indecent.
>> >
>> > JL
>> > II
>> > Today
>> >
>> > On CNN this morning Kirin Chetry quoted Jose Baez's use of the word
>> "slut."
>> > She felt, however, that she had to spell it out rather utter it. She
>> > apologized for using the word, saying that she was only quoting someone
>> > else, and that she took the precaution of spelling rather than saying
>> "just
>> > in case any children might be listening."
>> >
>> > JL
>> >
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> --
> George A. Thompson
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ.
Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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