OK I recognise that my current direction has alienated the Christian Right (like they ain’t long gone from around here!), the Populist Right so now it’s time to offend the Politically Correct! Hell let’s see if I can’t one day get an excommunication into the bargain!

Language has always been a fascination, I love it’s nuances, it’s power, it’s foibles. The myriad assortment of differences in dialect, vocabulary, accent and mistakes make us as unique as our physical features. Our language imprint and style is tantamount to a current fingerprint of who and where we are at a particular time. Our vocabularly reflects local influences some may be long-standing others more recent, it can reflect class as well as cultural heritage.

I saw a program called ‘The C-Word’ the other day, a fairly easy-going etymological study of this word, perhaps the most taboo word in the English language. The program did not seek to say that everyone who says it is either good or bad, neither did it seek to denigrate those who abhor its usage. However it did look at some interesting points which in fact transcend simply this word and strike at what the underlying problem often is. The word cunt was used frequently in the 12th to the 18th centuries without any eyebrow-raising. Grove Lane in Oxford was formerly called Gropecunt Lane (the name signifying that it was an area used by prostitutes) and part of people’s names in 13th Century frequently contained it. Since the word always carried the same meaning it is not as if suddenly lexical inference has meant it has taken on hitherto uncharacteristic slang tendencies. So it is a relatively modern phenomenon and it is unsurprisingly the Victorians who are principally responsible for it’s transition to the heavy profane word that it is today.

It was interesting that in the program they spoke to a comedian from East London who explained that it was a common word used in slang conversations without necessarily implying offence and this certainly mirrors my time in SE London particularly. I could call my best friend a silly cunt, a daft cunt, a drunk cunt, a sick cunt or a poor old cunt without him taking umbrage. However this is because of the way I would use the word. If, however I used it in anger at someone the consonents are practically spat out – “you (fucking) cunt” would indeed be intending to cause offence. In London people would know the difference between the two without any ambiguity. It would be pretty unrealistic to expect any standard slang not to include an extensive use of the vernacular, I can only speak for London and if I were offended at the use of profanity I wouldn’t have been able to go out!

By the same token my best mate and I frequently refer to one another as a homo or a gaylord, not to signify homosexuality, nor in a way which is designed to offend, it is just a light-hearted way to say berk or pillock. Just as I have heard gay men refer to other gay men as a ‘right old queen’ or such like. Most people would not raise their eyebrows were we to call one another a berk, despite it’s origin being Cockney-rhyming slang Berkley Hunt – meaning cunt. Likewise the term getting on my wick has become mainstream despite its derivation being Cockney rhyming slang – Hampton Wick – dick. In real cockney usage though rather than getting on my wick you would normally say it was getting on your Hampton, the actual rhyming word being the one that is frequently dropped. (Someone tell me please why Hampton in SW London is used in this Cockney sense and not Hackney Wick which is in Cockney heartland of E. London?).

The reason I would defend our usage of what the politically correct might term homophobic insults in this context is because for either of us to be called gay is not an insult, we are not homophobic, the word gaylord is more used in its retro sense because we both recall it being used in the playground in the 1970s as an almost show-stopping insult before anyone was aware what it actually signified. This in fact illustrates perfectly how words can be used because of the significance others attach to it – so much language of the playground is used because children have overheard the way it has been used by people older than them and the weight that it has appeared to carry. However familiarity with words can lead to a lessening of their power as it ceases to retain its shock value.

I have discussed the word nigger many times before. I will not refer to it as ‘the n word’ because this affords it more linguistic power than the word itself is due. Nigger has been in circulation for a while coming originally from the Latin niger meaning black, the word negars was used in 1619 by John Rolfe, describing slaves shipped to Virginia colony. Neger or neggar was widely used in Dutch communities to refer to African slaves. It is generally thought to have become a word used in pejorative terms around the late 18th early/19th centuries. Nowadays it would be uncommon to hear white people use the word nigger, outside the urban working class youth, unless they are using it in a racist sense, such has been the political correct campaign against it, however amongst black youths it has long since been re-appropriated and this has been a great deal more effect in diffusing its impact.

Pakis has been similarly repatriated by the Pakistani community and rightly so, it renders it useless as an insult and therefore the discomfort of the white middle classes is merely symptomatic of their outdated morality. It is quite normal now to see banners for ‘Paki Power’ at cricket matches in this country. I remember certainly in the 70s it was relatively common in London to see graffitti saying ‘Pakis out’ or ‘Pakis go home’ the irony was that most of the supposed Pakis these people were referring to were in fact Indian, a great many via Uganda, and yet the term wog which had been used from the days of the British Empire, but more commonly since the 1950s was largely declining in circulation then, I haven’t heard wog used now for many years.

Spastics is an interesting one, it is not generally used any more to refer to those with spastic diplegia and cerebral palsy. and it would be interesting to therefore chart its decline as a word used in offensive situations particularly in the young who have not grown up with the word being around. The word spastics being used derogatively had a direct result on the Spastics Society changing their name to Scope because their research had shown that parents were less likely to contact the society for fear of their children being tarnished with the label and businesses were uneasy about linking themselves with a perceived stigmatic term. Did this change in name halt the use of the word spastic, I suspect it has had a large impact on it, I would contend that one hears it a great deal less these days, however in answer to the bigger question of whether this name change did anything to increase awareness and tolerance of those with cerebral palsy and other such conditions I would say probably not. Furthermore the emergence of terms like Scoper or Scopers or Scopey, which I am told have come into existence, appears to counter the assumption that the word spastic disappeared following a concerted campaign by the anti-discrimination movement of the 1980’s as I have seen claimed. Words such as spaz, spacker, cripple are still in pretty common usage and spaz illustrates another example of the problem with removing words because it is widely used as an accepted and inoffensive word in the US whilst it is slang and generally considered offensive in the UK. An example of how quickly language can adapt to circumstance can be seen in the case of Joey Deacon, a cerebral palsy sufferer who had overcome great physical handicap and showed that his mental capacity was unimpaired. His story was shown on Blue Peter which at the time was almost universally watched by schoolchildren. The insults, Joey and Deacon which were widesread and instantaneous remain to this day, seldom used, as most who were alive at the time are older and wiser, but they would still be understood by any of the generation brought up in the 1970s to early 80s which coincided with the broadcasting of Joey Deacon’s story in 1981 as part of the International Year Of The Disabled.

In conclusion we will always use words for different purposes and to convey our feeling to other people. The word itself is a mere conduit to those emotions, it is the vehicle by which we carry them and we will always use the word we feel most befits not only how we feel but how we will make the other person best understand, this is what I like to call linguistic chameleonism as I feel that describes the whole process by which many of us change our accent and our vocabulary to fit our surroundings. If people are driving whilst drunk you don’t remove the car and allow the driver to find another one to drive you take the driver out of the system. The same rule applies to language. If you remove the words cunt, nigger, paki, spastic etc from the system you do not stop those who seek to use these words to cause offence and to do harm from still wishing to do so, you merely deprive them of their primary means of doing so for a short period of time they will adapt and find different words that have or will come to have the same meaning. This to me is one of the biggest impediments to the success of political correctness and why the movement is doomed to abject failure because it seeks to tackle the effect of a problem and not the cause. Forcing children to sing Baa Baa Green Sheep or changing the colour of bin bags really does nothing to increase interracial harmony, removing the word cunt from the English language would not make mysogany disappear overnight and changing names to appease people’s sensitivities is fighting a rearguard action because when a new name comes to represent the same stigma are you going to be forced to change again, surely this is allowing the bigotted to dicate terms?

This sort of approach offered by the political correct lobby has also the problem of no clearly definable limits after all should we abolish the word sinister because it comes from Latin sinistra meaning left and like the term cack-handed can be used to imply derogative connotations to those who are left-handed. Western European society and language is founded on the principle of right being right – the English proves that, but the French droit also means right in both senses as does the German recht. In Irish, deas means both right side and nice. Ciotóg is the left hand and is related to ciotach meaning awkward. Even people who can do things with both hands are said to be ambidextrous drawing on the stem of dexter Latin for right.

By changing or removing words we will not change the issue that people mock, insult, mistrust or fear those who are different. A decent system of education with a breadth of understanding and exposure to a myriad assortment of people and backgrounds and cultures is far more likely to instill a comprehension that people’s differences are merely part of what makes up who they are, to be celebrated for their own sake but only within the context that we all remain at heart human beings and in the scheme of things such differences are trivial. Maybe at that point we can then move on and respect the other apes and not see them merely as big monkeys.

Anyone deeply offended by this entry has missed the point entirely.

Song Of The Day ~ Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Down Boy

Advertisements