More euphemisms: "pervasive language"

Larry Sheldon LarrySheldon at COX.NET
Sat Mar 17 18:34:39 UTC 2012

On 3/17/2012 8:47 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:

> what seems to be new here is "language" used this way in American
> English.  here's the OED3 (March 2000) subentry:

(Keeping in mind that am not an expert in the area....)
> 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,

In this one, is there really any indication of the quality of the
language?  I picture Eugene Scott or any number of other preachers of my
youth (or of teachers and lecturers in other fields) hurling words as if
weapons, all from the King James Version.  My grandfather comes to mind,
he only once in the years I knew him said something like "that dratted
kid" (yes, referring to me) and never anything stronger.  (And he could
on occasion convey intense anger--he could have played an irate Quaker
to perfection.)

> 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

That one puzzles me--I have no idea (aside from the context of this
discussion) what kind of language that was.  It seems to me that "foul"
is not particularly implied.  I can see "boisterous" but even then I see
no necessarily "bad".

> 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.

Sailors are known (unfairly from my own experience) for foul language so
I guess the assumption in the first of these two, and I suppose the
second one might imply "salacious" which I would not think would be
considered "foul" in that context.  A movie about the club would bring
us back to the topic at hand.

> vii. 75   ‘You behave like bloody fools.’ ‘Language, now, Mr
> Honeybath, language.’

My grandmother said things like that to me when she heard me say "ain't"
and "Where's the ketchup at?".

I picture Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. saying something like that
to James T. Hart.

My flight instructor often said things like "airspeed, now, Mr. Sheldon,
airspeed" or, "altitude, now, Mr. Sheldon, altitude".

The implication being that the matter needed my attention and there is
clearly a hint of disapproval, but no declaration as to what is
wrong--I'm supposed to figure that out.

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".
> arnold
>> JL
>> On Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 11:13 PM, Neal
>> Whitman<nwhitman at>wrote:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>> ----------------------- Sender:       American Dialect
>>> Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> Poster:       Neal
>>> Whitman<nwhitman at AMERITECH.NET> Subject:      Re: More
>>> euphemisms:  "pervasive language"
>>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Yes, agreed, by our old definition of "language". But if "language" now
>>> means "offensive language" in this context, then "mild language"
>>> means "mild offensive language" as opposed to "strong offensive
>>> language", and "pervasive language" means "pervasive offensive
>>> language".
>>> Neal
>>>> I do get it.  Although if "language" means "offensive or
>>>> obscene language", it can't be "mild".
>>>> But -- "Mild" I can understand -- it's a quality.  "Obscene"
>>>> or "blasphemous" I can understand.  But "pervasive" I can't
>>>> place on a scale.  "Pervasive offensive language" would make
>>>> sense for an R, as opposed to "occasional offensive language"
>>>> meriting a PG, or whatever.
>>>> Joel
>>> ------------------------------------------------------------ The
>>> American Dialect Society -
>> -- "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle
>> the truth."
>> ------------------------------------------------------------ The
>> American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------ The
> American Dialect Society -

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