Reader Greg Daly writes from the UK

Reader Greg Daly writes from the UK September 21, 2010

Hi Mark, nothing you won’t already know, of course, but I’ve taken advantage of being rather poorly today – an unusual phenomenon – to sit in bed and hammer out my thoughts on all the nonsense people have been talking here about the Papal visit. I’ve posted them here, in case you’re interested.

If my blog weren’t so long neglected I’d post it there too.

Also, a question, if I may. A friend of me was discussing having been told off for swearing recently, and we wondered whether the Church actually has a line on this. I mean, I know there are injunctions against blaspheming and against cursing people, and also that the Bible itself occasionally uses words that we should translate more robustly than we do, but does the Church actually have a line on what we might call vulgarity? My guess is that it’s certainly not approved of, but neither is it regarded as sinful in and of itself.

Why it just so happens that I wrote a piece on this some time back! Behold!

One thing to note which I did not discuss in the article: vulgarity in English is very much tied into class. Anglo-Saxon words are swear words (or at any rate, crude words). Words derived from the language of the French conquerors of 1066 are the polite words. Simply do a mental survey of the Saxon synonyms for excrete, copulate, perspire, menstruate, expectorate and such like and you have most of the crudest words in English. Vulgarity is, in English, deeply rooted in class (as, I suspect, it is in other languages too). The upside of the Saxon contribution to English is that use of these older words marks you as plain spoken. Churchill famously said that old words are best and old words, when short, are best of all. The down side of the Frenchified stream pouring into the English language is that, while it taps into lots of Latin and helps us articulate ideas coming from the Roman tradition, it is also the mark of the snooty and pridefully upper crust.

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