More euphemisms: "pervasive language"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Mar 17 15:31:23 UTC 2012

It's too bad that the OED is unconcerned to document American English.  If
a word or meaning is first found over here, then, o. k.  But if it
originated in England, then the OED won't bother to show how quickly or
slowly it migrated to the U. S.
Neither does it concern itself with English among any of the other
colonials, ungrateful wretches that they are.  But probably there are more
English speakers here than in the rest of the colonies put together, and
there will be more subscriptions to the OED taken here.  The spread of
words and phrases documents the spread of ideas, culture, social practices,
and it would be well if the OED were to provide the evidence that's in its
For my own interests, I have Jonathon Green's dictionary of slang.  But,
wait!  That reminds me of another reason why the Curse of the Thompsons is
falling upon Oxford University Press.  Where is volume 3 of HDAS?  Let them
beware.  The Curse of the Thompsons may not be felt at once, but when it
strikes it is devastating.


On Sat, Mar 17, 2012 at 11:08 AM, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at> wrote:

> On 3/17/2012 9:47 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU**>
>> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky<zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
>> Subject:      Re: More euphemisms: "pervasive language"
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>> -------------------
>> On Mar 17, 2012, at 6:25 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
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>>> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU**>
>>> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter<wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM**>
>>> Subject:      Re: More euphemisms: "pervasive language"
>>> ------------------------------**------------------------------**
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>>> 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 -

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 -

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