Tender American sensibilities

Via bookofjoe; the OED and BBC are repeating their exercise of inviting the public to try and find earlier citations for various words. It’s a somewhat interesting idea but, having seen some of the last series: the results don’t make for riveting television.

What I found interesting was a couple of things from the Washington Post article on the subject. Firstly there’s this weirdly obsequious paragraph about the English:

The English have a special relationship with the language named for their land. From Chaucer to Shakespeare to Dickens, this country has given the world some of its most memorable literature. The spoken word is also revered here, and English debaters articulate even the most mundane ideas with remarkable music and vocabulary. Americans puzzle over Britons keeping their spare “tyre” in the “boot” of their car, but most admit that they sound clever doing it.

The spoken word is ‘revered’ in England? You what? And what do simple regional variations like boot/trunk have to do with anything?

The other thing that I found odd was this:

Before 1976, “marital aids” were known by less genteel names, and using them, along with other more sexually adventurous behavior, became “kinky” in 1959. Some terms on the list are too naughty to be printed here. But the Oxford editors are as interested in their X-rated beginnings as they are in “identity theft,” “spiv” (a sharply dressed hustler), “mucky pup” (a messy child) and “prat” (a fool or a jerk).

I was surprised that the BBC would pick unprintable words for a TV show about word origins, so I checked out the list. The only possibilities seem to be ‘dog’s bollocks’ and ‘tosser’. Or ‘dogging’, I suppose. Can it really be true that an apparently grown-up newspaper like the Washington Post has such tender, innocent readers that they would be offended by seeing the word ‘bollocks’ in print?

I suppose it might be. I remember seeing some footage of Emma Thompson on Leno where she starts telling an anecdote about doing some filming with a horse which, hilariously, had an erection, and Leno having to cut her off because the e word was apparently just too strong for a late-night chat show. Perhaps that’s what our ‘special relationship with the language’ consists of: knob jokes.

2 Comments

  1. 8 January 2007 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that’s some strange, bad journalism. Obsequious is about right.

    In any case, it’s the Irish who have a special relationship to the language.

  2. Harry
    9 January 2007 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I should really try not to be annoyed by every instance of half-arsed autopilot journalism (because I don’t want to die of apoplexy), but, you know, arrgh.

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