I despise bad language, but I love bad language.
But do let me rephrase that – I realise it wasn’t exactly clear.
I abhor bad grammar and the employment of the English language in such ways as render it ugly or even plain, but I love swearing.
I’ve never really been able to understand why a nice burst of profanity offends anyone. Mostly because the reasons such people give for taking offence are – frankly – nothing more than arse-gravy.
‘It’s just not necessary…’ they whine.
‘It’s a sign of a poor vocabulary…’ they bleat.
‘It’s so vulgar…’ they complain.
Let’s take these one by one.
What is necessary, exactly? Does this mean necessary for life? Because if we’re cutting out everything not strictly necessary for life we’re left with basic shelter, air, water, food and fucking. By which last, of course, I mean ‘sexual intercourse undertaken for the express purpose of propagating the species’.
By which, of course, I mean fucking – or ‘making the beast with two backs’, if you think that the fact that Shakespeare wrote something makes it automatically kosher no matter how vivid and, well, vulgar the image is.
Next: if you tell me that I’ve got a poor vocabulary while seeking to limit my vocabulary, you’re an idiot. In fact it seems fair to assume that you’re a cunt.
Now vulgar… Well, the word vulgar derives from the Latin vulgus, meaning simply the common people. Like the word rude (Latin again: rudis), it has come to take on pejorative connotations relating to unsavoury behaviour in public, but I personally have no problem with being seen as either vulgar or rude so far as my employment of English is concerned in any of the senses now indicated by these two sadly debased words.
Such thoughts as these on the subject of profanity have been inspired by my immersing myself, over the last couple of days, in the wonderful world of The Thick Of It and In The Loop (both ultimately the brain-children of writer and director Armando Iannucci). Now, under any normal circumstances I wouldn’t be blogging about a TV show, much less a film, but on this occasion I’m trying to excuse myself on the basis that both were written: they existed somewhere on paper before they did on celluloid.
Have a quick gander at this clip from In The Loop, and tell me afterwards you didn’t laugh your arse off:
Is this sort of writing necessary? No – but then barely anything that makes life worth living is. Does it indicate signs of poor vocabulary, or of lack of knowledge on the part of Malcolm Tucker, the mad Scot having such a finely controlled apoplectic fit? No, that won’t wash either – his speech is allusive and wide ranging.
But is it vulgar?
Fuck yes. And I love it.
I particularly love Tucker’s inclusion of the modifier ‘lubricated’. It takes the nastiness to a new and particularly delicious nadir, bespeaking an attention to detail that cannot fail to impress.
Attempts to reclaim ‘vulgar’ language as something fine and earthy tend inevitably to fail (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, anyone?), and I think they fail because we don’t want profanity to be anything other than what it is: something a little bit foul made for flinging when the urge to fling foulness runs rampant.
Euphemistic language on the other hand is – when not used for the purposes of humour – dead language. It is evasive, dishonest and cowardly: it’s the language of advertising. I want my language to be up for a brawl from time to time. Otherwise what’s the point of it?
The subject of Shakespeare came up earlier – as the subject will – and it’s worth having a think about how the most revered writer ever to scribble with a quill in English used our tongue.
Have a look at this, from Twelfth Night: here the deliciously idiotic Malvolio is trying a bit of forensic graphology on a letter he believes is from the woman he loves. His conclusions, however, are just a little bit Freudian. ‘These be her very Cs, her Us, and her Ts: and thus makes she her great Ps’ (II.v.87-88). Get it?
Or perhaps you think Shakespeare is too flashy and modern. You get vulgar writing with flashy modern scribblers. So let’s wind back the clock another few centuries.
Ok: how about some Chaucer? This is from The Miller’s Tale:
‘Pryvely he caught her by the queynte’.
Or how about these little gems from The Wife of Bath:
‘For certeyn, olde dotard, by your leave
You shall have queynte right enough at eve’
‘What aileth you to grouche thus and groan?
Is it for ye would have my queynte alone?’
Can you guess what ‘queynete’ means?
And how about Pushkin, to get back to times somewhat closer to our own?
Here’s Clive James on the subject:
‘Pushkin was a stoat. There are less vulgar ways of putting it, but they wouldn’t fit a sex drive like his. In his earlier amatory career, which appears to have got under way at about the same time as his chin grew its first whisker, he routinely referred to females, compliant or otherwise, as “cunt”. On the eve of his marriage, he described, in a letter to a similarly priapic male friend, the blissful state of wedlock as “lawful cunt”, which he further defined as “a kind of warm cap with ear-flaps.”’
If you’re going to tell me that Pushkin, Shakespeare, Chaucer and countless other writers of surpassing ability employed language that wasn’t necessary, language which indicated that they had poor vocabularies or were vulgar, then you really and incontrovertibly are a kind of warm cap with ear-flaps.
You can quote me.