British Army linguistic etiquette, 1916

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Sep 13 01:48:17 UTC 2007

>From Norman Gladden, _The Somme 1916: A Personal Account_ (London: William Kimber, 1974), p. 86 [based on Private Gladden's diary]:

  "Swearing and talk that was often dirty, sometimes blasphemous, were a common habit in the army and most of us wasted much breath on unnecessary expletives. That morning [Sept. 21, 1916]...two members of the draft came to blows after one had called the other a 'bastard.' It was an army convention that this word was taboo on the grounds that it insulted not only the recipient but his mother. Prevailing public opinion decreed that such a lapse could be repaired only by apology or a fight. Even an NCO or an officer could be called to account for its use. This particular fight...was eventually stopped by the bystanders."

  Gladden doesn't say so, but "son of a bitch" presumably met with similar disapproval; the yet more lurid mother-related epithet was apparently unknown in Britain at the time.


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