?#*&**$£*!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you ever watched Inside The Actor’s Studio with James Lipton? It’s a very simple format of a one on one interview between the host (Lipton) and a guest actor. It’s a great show which goes beyond just being another example of the question and answer session as it is steered to waters that are very rarely explored by an interviewer, and that brings me to the topic today.

One of the questions the guests are routinely asked is ‘What is your favourite curse word?’

Swearing is an odd topic for an insightful interview surely? Swearing is something that, as kids, we’re taught we should never do and as adults is seen as being vulgar and low minded yet there it is as one of the cornerstones of an incredibly well respected interview format.

Hmmmmmmmm?

We all swear to some level or another. Even those people who say they don’t, do, I’m sure. Swearing is, at the most basic level, and exclamation mark. It’s added emphasis to something else. It’s just that the exclamation mark of swearing is a list of words that have been deemed ‘naughty’.

Firstly, who decided that these things were naughty? Why is it that saying ‘I need a poop’ can be accepted when uttered by a five year old yet ‘I need a shit’ isn’t? Speaking as the old FART I am, I can recall I time back in the dim and distant past, the 1980’s, where if someone uttered the word crap on the radio, there was an immediate apology, yet today, although not language that is appearing at every syllable, that word has become less negatively powerful.

Now does this highlight a descent into a more vulgar lexicon, a lowering of standards, or just that the way that language is used is changing?

When I was doing my A-Levels, one of the books I studied in English Literature was The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. It’s a funny read with comedy and satire all over the show and it’s making comment on social structure and cohesion from the time it was written, but it’s not the sort of book you just pick up and crack on with. It’s written in Old English and as such takes a little getting used to. A great many of the words in the book are the same but there are loads which were a great deal different way back when.

This shows that our language changes over time so there may be a time in the future when all manner of expletives now become rather mundane words.

But swearing is often viewed as a relatively negative thing because it tends to accompany high emotion. Anger becomes much more effusive with the occasional sprinkling of curse words. They flare in our mind with said anger and can be blasted around like a jet of water from a high pressure hose just to help make the point, an exclamation mark.

But how do you feel when you read a swear word?

The spoken word is one thing, the engaging of anger before control for example, but when you read a swear word, there was planning in that word. There was real thought in it’s use. It was deployed with deliberate care so has the power to become more uncomfortable as a consequence. When I write stories I try to make sure that if I have to use a swear word, then it’s needed to fit the character and the context of the story. Swearing used too often lessens the effect and it just becomes punctuation to fill the spaces between words and that just waters everything down.

I’ve been told by people that swearing is proof of a lazy vocabulary, that if someone has to resort to swearing, then they’re showing that they have a somehow weaker mind. I don’t agree. The great Billy Connolly gave a great quote to cover this exact point when he said “A lot of people say that it’s a lack of vocabulary that makes you swear. Rubbish. I know thousands of words but I still prefer ‘f—.'”

Swearing is just another tool in the box we all have to use to get our point across to the world at large. There are times where certain words don’t fit the spaces that we need them to so we don’t use them but there should never be a complete shunning of swearing. After all, all those words we’re not supposed to use are so much fun.

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SOUNDS FAMILIAR

The English language is a very peculiar thing.

Aside for the delightful thoughts concerning who was the genius who came up with the idea of making abbreviation such a long word?, and why is it dyslexia is such a difficult word to spell?, it occurred to me that in so many ways, the number of words needed has clearly outstripped the imagination of those making them up.

When I write anything, when we all do, there’s always the opportunity to stumble across words which sound the same but are spelled very differently. We always have to remain vigilant to the risk that the homophone represents.

The classic that pops up at the back end of the year is slay and sleigh. Two words which are so utterly apart from each others meanings yet happily become interchangeable when you just consider the sound. I would have loved to have been in the room when the decision was made that those two very different things should effectively be called the same thing.

Navel gazing is very different from naval gazing. Talking about the profit rather than the prophet of a religion changes the tone just a bit and a slow gin would be an exercise in frustration over the sloe gin.

But each and every language isn’t a closed system which remains the same regardless of any external contact. New words enter our vocabulary all of the time and have done so all the way through history in exactly the same way some of our words will have been picked up by others. It’s more than possible that a word for one thing comes from one language and the same word could mean something different in another. Put them together as we all melt together in the linguistic pot and you find yourself where we are now.

Words are a massive way that we as a species are able to communicate. Having the same words crop up in different languages just means that we all ultimately have a very similar way of creating sounds to get our point across. As societies continue to blend and mix it’s only likely that more and more words and phrases take up shared residence with different meanings.

It’s going to be interesting seeing things evolve.

‘Ewe reap watt ewe so.’

‘Eye knead ewe.’

‘Weigh two go.’

Should be fun!

LIFEBOAT

We had a week away from the rat race last week and attended a convention in France and then had some time in Germany. A wonderful time was had and we saw some amazing sights with such global importance in Berlin, I can only urge everyone to take a trip there to witness them face to face. The worldwide effects which spread from Berlin are mighty but that’s not what I want to draw attention to in this post.

Today I want to look at the feeling of safety we derive from our own language.

My wife is better at languages than me. She was the one who got stuck in to the learning Italian when we went on holiday there. She studied German at A-level and has a pretty strong grasp of at least being able to work out the gist of what’s being said in French. I studied Spanish to GCSE level and I limped over the line. I enjoy the sound of other languages and they charge my mind to hear all of the many ways that humans communicate but being able to actually take in the details is something I find really tough.

When we were in Italy and France, it was remarkable though, just how much of the little odds and bods we all shared in our languages. That level of familiarity bred a comfort that helped bridge the gaps of being in a foreign land. There were more areas of familiarity in German but the addition of the occasional new letter suddenly made the ice I was stood on seem that much thinner. In Germany, I felt on very thin ice for so much of the time we were there.

We can take our language and the ability to communicate almost for granted. Every day we work, play and everything in between based around the powers of communication and that communication let’s us do almost anything. Can you imagine what any ‘normal’ day would become if you were unable to converse with anyone? Isolation can be a very dangerous place. If you were the only person who didn’t understand the language that was being used, you’d be stuck on the outside looking in but totally adrift in the sea of sounds that everyone else was using and doing their best to almost plead with you to understand. Frustration builds because you’re cut off.

The best you can hope for is hand signals and as much guess work as you can muster to try and get your point across while digging for the meanings to what others are saying.

Language is a thing that we all make use of. In all manner of ways we have our own set of terms that we can converse in with set groups. Special terms from work can sound like nonsense to family. Fandom terminology at work is the same. But remove understanding of a language and you lose so much more than just the ability to order a beer.