More euphemisms: "pervasive language"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Mar 17 15:08:22 UTC 2012

On 3/17/2012 9:47 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky<zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: More euphemisms: "pervasive language"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Mar 17, 2012, at 6:25 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter<wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: More euphemisms: "pervasive language"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Clearly in these cases, which I've been noticing for several years,
>> "language" means "offensive language" precisely as Neal says.
>> I've even heard news stories where somebody was accused of using, without
>> further elaboration in the *immediate* context, "some language."
> what seems to be new here is "language" used this way in American English.  here's the OED3 (March 2000) subentry:
> colloq. = bad language at sense 2a. Also int., indicating that the speaker should desist from using such language.
> 1860   Dickens Uncommerc. Traveller in All Year Round 10 Mar. 464/1   Mr. Victualler's assurance that he ‘never allowed any language, and never suffered any disturbance’.
> 1865   Dickens Dr. Marigold i, in All Year Round Extra Christmas No., 7 Dec. 4/1   But have a temper in the cart, flinging language and the hardest goods in stock at you, and where are you then?
> 1886   W. Besant Children of Gibeon I. ii. ii. 263   The evening is the liveliest time of the day for Ivy Lane..the street is fullest, the voices loudest, the children most shrill, the women most loquacious, and the ‘language’ most pronounced.
> 1893   F. C. Selous Trav. S.-E. Afr. 3   The sailor..had never ceased to pour out a continuous flood of ‘language’ all the time.
> 1929   C. C. Martindale Risen Sun 173,   I have heard more ‘language’ in a ‘gentleman's’ club in ten minutes than in all that evening in the Melbourne Stadium.
> 1974   ‘M. Innes’ Mysterious Comm. vii. 75   ‘You behave like bloody fools.’ ‘Language, now, Mr Honeybath, language.’
> 1995   J. M. Sims-Kimbrey Wodds&  Doggerybaw 172/2   'E's allus usin' langwidge, 'e is. A weeannt let them kids near 'im.
> …..
> (note the quotation marks in some cases.)  all of the citations are British, as is the interjectional use of "language".

Even the US use may not be so new. MW3, "languiage", sense 4c: ":
abusive epithets : PROFANITY" ... with example by Ring Lardner (from
"Horseshoes", 1916 [I think]) "shouldn't of blamed the fellers if they'd
cut loose with some language".

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list