GAMMON – UP AGAINST THE WALL

Image result for gammon and pineapple 1970s

 

This week, very late in the day, the mainstream UK media and the wider national conversation finally caught up with a social and political slur that had been trending for more than a year already. The insult in question was ‘gammon’, one of only a couple of pejorative labels (the other, slightly more affectionate, being ‘centrist dad’) directed from the left at the right as opposed to the many (‘libtard’, ‘snowflake’, ‘cuck’, etc.) routinely hurled in the other direction.

The word itself is British and denotes an orange-coloured side or slice of cooked ham or bacon often proposed as emblematic of the garish-looking, odd-tasting and nutritionally suspect dishes served (warm, with a pineapple garnish) across British tables in the 1970s (when, ironically, ‘gammon rasher’ was rhyming slang for ‘smasher’ in the sense of something superlative). Gammon was adopted from French gambon, from gambe meaning leg, in the 15th century, while backgammon is unrelated and probably comes from an old form of the verb to game.

Following the Times’ , the Express and the New Statesman’s belated discovery of the word Twitter was a-buzz on May 14, first with protests, many seemingly by gammons themselves, at what were alleged to be its racist and classist implications and then with more coherent attempts to unpack its real denotations and connotations.

Someone with the handle ‘Build a wall, line all the nazis up along it’ explained…

‘Gammon isn’t about class, it describes white ppl who spend a lot of their time being pink because they’re so angry being white doesn’t make them special’

Exasperated by ongoing witless misunderstandings, I added my own two-penn’orth…

‘Nothing to do with class, it denotes florid, loud, usually lardy middle-aged ranting bigots. #simples

By midday someone else had discovered a reference in Victorian literature that seemed to anticipate the modern usage…

My god, he’s right: @Protooptimism has discovered that Dickens used “gammon tendency” as a political insult in Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9):

 

 

It’s not quite clear whether Dickens’ use of the word relates to the slang sense then prevalent in the underworld, of ‘gammon’, verb and noun, to mean (‘to use) the secret, deceitful language of thieves and tricksters’, hence applicable perhaps to jingoism and bluster on the part of a ‘fervid’ middle-aged blowhard. An intriguing correlation with Irish was noted by another commentator…

No linguists paid much attention at the time to the mutation of gammon from a collective term of abuse for a constituency or persuasion to a label applied to the individual members thereof. The BBC, though, yesterday carried a good, level-headed history of the expression’s first post- Brexit referendum appearances and its rise to prominence…

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-44108080

And Urban Dictionary‘s entry can be commended…

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gammon

By the end of a long day the furore (by now dubbed ‘gammongate’) had somewhat subsided, leaving a few wry observational tweets…

Presume after today, use of a certain type of roasted ham as an insult will be prohibited. Hope there’s a gamnesty on previous usage.’

‘Since the words ‘Tory’ and ‘Whig’ both started as insults, I fully expect British politics to soon be contested between the Gammon Party and the Melt Party.’

‘It’s offensive to call people whose reactionary apoplexy makes them go pink-faced “gammons”. The correct term is “people of choler”.’

And, late news, this, perhaps (but unlikely to be) the last word, again from Twitter, this morning…

JamieJones77‏ @JamieJones77

‘I’m a 55 year old white thinning cropped haired old punker. #Gammon isn’t racist, it perfectly describes the bigoted tossers of my own age group who turn pink when they get angry about their privilege being challenged. G’wan bust yer blood vessels you rancid foaming dinosaurs.’

…and it wasn’t the last word. Five days on I discovered this, from the originator of the expression himself…

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/gammon-brexiteers-angry-white-men-middle-age-immigration-a8352141.html

 

Image result for gammon insult

A DRILL DICTIONARY

By their keywords shall thee know them?

 

Image result for drill music

 

The latest in a long series of moral panics (the term used by sociologist since the 1970s) exploited by the UK press and now subject of rancorous political debate, the issue of knife-crime and killings by street gangs, mainly in London, is genuinely concerning and is only now receiving the attention and analysis it demands. A side-effect of media interest is that the language used by the gang members and by the music genres that celebrate them is being recorded – haphazardly and not always accurately – for the first time. The musical genre in question is UK Drill, a successor to the ultra-hard-edged Trap Rap (from The Trap, slang nickname for the local area where drugs are dealt) that appeared first in Chicago in the 2000s. Drill (the word can signify shooting but has many other slang senses) has been adopted and adapted by hyperlocal urban communities in the poorer parts of London and, despite their claims, doesn’t just evoke the harsh realities of life on inner-city estates, but often glamorises it and seems to promote an ethos of territoriality, boastful masculinity and murderous retaliatory violence.

 

Image result for London knife crime headlines

 

So far only very few reporters have managed to penetrate the groups whose members occupy and fiercely defend their microzones, fighting for control, too, of economies based on drug trading. The rappers emerging from the same postcode- or estate-defined enclaves compete and feud electronically, dissing and threatening their rivals in their lyrics – and in a few cases have actually been implicated in killings or woundings on the street.

In May 2018 the Metropolitan Police intensified attempts to ban videos associated with the music genre and the gangs caught up in street violence:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/drill-music-stabbings-london-youtube-violence-police-knife-crime-gangs-a8373241.html

I hope soon to engage with members of this subculture and find out more about their values and the way they encode them. In the meantime I have begun to assemble a lexicon of the most significant key terms they use, in a slang which mixes US hiphop argot and Caribbean expressions transposed to or reinvented in London (harking back to the Yardie gang culture of the 1980s). So far just a glossary, my list is far from complete, so please help me add more items if you can, or correct my mistakes. Here is this work in progress as it stands, followed by some relevant links…

 

Akhibrother, friend

Ballybalaclava

Bandoabandoned property

Bangerhit, successful song

Barslyrics

Beefdispute, feud

Bitzone’s neighbourhood

Chingingchilling and hanging out

Codes‘postcode areas’, zones where gangs dominate

Cornammunition

Crashing cornshooting your gun

Cunchout-of-town locations where drugs can be sold

Diligentadmirable, brave, cool

Ding dongdispute, brawl

Dippedstabbed

Dipperknife

Donrespected person

Dottieshotgun

Drillershooter, gang member

Drillingattacking, aggressing, invading

Dumpyshotgun

Duppykill, dead

Endzone’s neighbourhood

Fedspolice

Fishinglooking for victims

Gassedexcited

GM(fellow) gang member

Go cunch/countryleave the city to sell drugs in rural/seaside locations

Grubbyauthentic, tough (neighbourhood)

Gwopmoney

Hittergunman

Ketchupblood

Layers – protective clothing

Lenggun

Lurkstalk a victim, menace

Mac(k)automatic firearm

Mashgun

Moistdisgusting, pathetic

Ootersshooters

Oppsenemies

Opp-blockenemy territory

Oxrazor, blade

Pagan, paigonuntrustworthy person, enemy

Pedmoped

Properexcellent, admirable

Psmoney

Reppromote or publicly declare for (one’s area, gang)

Ride out for (someone)to defend, even if guilty

Score kill or injure an enemy

Scoreboard, scorecardlist of enemies killed, injured or defeated

Shankknife

Skenggun, weapon

Slewruin, defeat

Snitchinformer

Spinnerspetite females

Spittingrapping

Squirtspray acid (over someone)

Stickgun

Stickydangerous

Strapgun

Swimmingstabbed

Ten toesrun away, escape

Trapneighbourhood, ‘ghetto’, area where drugs are sold

Trappinghanging out, selling drugs

Treypistol

Wapgun

Wassstupid person

Yatgirl

Yuteyoung person or young people on the street

 

There are some terms for which I don’t yet have a perfect definition: chefing, doughnut, pepper, for example. These expressions have multiple meanings in street slang, but I’m not sure which one is prevalent in Drill culture. Please advise me if you can.

You can find a dictionary of multi-ethnic London slang and other examples of so called MLE (Multicultural London English) on this site. I have extensive files of youth language, available to researchers, journalists, etc. on request, and here are some more street slang terms from the UK Rap and Grime milieu, many also used by Drill aficionados:

https://pigeonsandplanes.com/in-depth/2013/08/british-rap-slang/draw

And from the mouths of the Drillers themselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnGZRWUHGh4

The only useful information on alleged links between drill and crime comes from commentators with a street-level perspective:

http://www.gal-dem.com/uk-drill-music-london-gang-violence/

https://pigeonsandplanes.com/in-depth/2018/01/uk-drill-sl-harlem-spartans-67-essay

Belatedly aware that Drill is worthy of attention (‘demonic’ was The Times‘ characterisation), the mainstream press has begun to investigate:

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/drill-music-london-stabbings-shootings-rap-67-abra-cadabra-comment-government-a8305516.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/apr/09/uk-drill-music-london-wave-violent-crime

One successful attempt to get inside the world of the gangs reveals the frustrations and futilities of life in ‘the bits’:

http://www.channel5.com/show/inside-the-gang/

And here, from Dazed magazine, is a small selection of some real peoples’ views (they resolutely absolve the music):

http://www.dazeddigital.com/politics/article/39960/1/knife-crime-young-people-east-london?utm_source=newzmate&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dazed_daily

In June this important piece, from youth worker Ciaran Thapar in the New Statesman:

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/music-theatre/2018/06/treating-drill-rappers-terrorists-colossal-mistake

 

Finally, some examples of the music, with very strong language:

 

…Compare and contrast all this with Drill’s older brother, Grime, as testified by Jeffrey Boakye:

http://www.gal-dem.com/hold-tight-conversation-jeffrey-boakye/

…And here, from June 2018, a timely review of all Black UK music genres from Yomi Adegoke:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jun/01/grime-afro-bashment-drill-how-black-british-music-became-more-fertile-than-ever

 

View story at Medium.com

 

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

 

OF THE EASTER EGG: ANECDOTES AND ETYMOLOGIES

Once a ‘heathen’ token of fertility and (re)birth (or so we are told – speculations by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century or Jacob Grimm in the 19th, now taken as gospel, may indeed be no more than speculation) appropriated by Christianity as a symbol of resurrection, nothing could be more familiar than an egg at Easter-time. More obscure are the early history of egg-giving and the very ancient origins of the word itself… 

 

Image result for little girls painting eggs

 

 Long ago it was a custom in northern England and Scotland to give decorated hardboiled eggs as presents for Easter, just as folk still do in Catholic and Orthodox Europe and elsewhere. These little gifts, typically hand-painted in vivid colours, were known variously as ‘paste-eggs’, ‘pace-eggs’ or ‘past-eggs’, the first component being a corruption of Latin paschalis, relating to Passover or Easter, rendered in earlier Englishes by the  adjectives ‘paschal’ or ‘pasch’. The terms might alternatively have been borrowed from just across the channel, perhaps from Dutch paasche eyren or Frisian peaske aaien. Dyeing or painting eggs, however, is a custom that predates ‘western’ or Christian practice. Very ancient traditions from many parts of the world involve the communal decoration of eggs at different times of the year, in Persia for example at the Nowruz (‘new day’) festival, marking the spring equinox and celebrated for the last two thousand years.

Image result for Nowruz painted eggs

 

Old Easter traditions, some true, some perhaps true and many almost certainly embellished (pun intended), were described by John Brand in his Popular Antiquity of 1841:

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=WJM9AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA97&lpg=PA97&dq=brands+popular+antiquity+easter+eggs&source=bl&ots=ya4uX85_0D&sig=MSw3N9LT_uN5LoSNPcf8-8U4MzQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjhnqigmYraAhVJ6xQKHedmACkQ6AEIRjAH#v=onepage&q=brands%20popular%20antiquity%20easter%20eggs&f=false

The first reference specifically to ‘Easter eggs’ is by John Knox in his 1572 History of the Reformation in Scotland. This tells of ‘gifts’ bestowed in a very different sense, when in Edinburgh a Catholic priest was captured and tormented: ‘Himself fast tyed to the said Crosse, where he tarried the space of one hour; During which time, the boyes served him [i.e pelted him] with his Easter egges.’

We can perfectly understand the word Knox uses, but students of the history of the English language will be familiar with another anecdote, recounted by the printer William Caxton in his Eneydos (a translation of Virgil’s Aeneids) of 1490. He described a group of northern English merchants en route to Holland whose ship was becalmed on the Thames.  One of them went ashore to buy a meal from a local woman: ‘And specially he aksyed after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe but wold haue hadde egges and she understood hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue ‘eyren’. Then the good wyf sayd that she understood hym well.’

 

Image result for caxton eggs text

 

Northern English dialect had adopted the word egges from Old Norse, while southern and eastern dialects used Old English eyren. Both are descendants of the Proto-Germanic *ajją which itself comes from Proto-IndoEuropean*h₂ōwyóm. This may be formed from a root-word for bird,*awi-, so settling once and for all the question of which came first. It is of course also the ancestor of Latin ovum and its derivations in Italian (uovo), Spanish (huevo) and French (oeuf) as well as in Greek ōión, Old Church Slavonic aja, Russian jajco, Breton ui and Welsh wy. Our modern egg is cognate with modern Icelandic and Norwegian egg, Swedish ägg and Danish æg. Modern German ei is closer to the Old English version.

Amusingly, there have been folk etymologies (that is, fake etymologies) for egg put forward by mischievous or deluded ‘experts’ in the past. One silly claim is that our word is related to ‘ego’ – and that this is somehow a theory endorsed by Sigmund Freud. The dramatist John Lyly in his Galatea comedy of 1588 plays with the notion that eggs are enticingly golden in colour and are ‘tried in the fire’ just like gold, for which they could be a symbol or synonym. Like gold, too, they are incentives ‘to frolic’ as they ‘are a thing that doth egg on’.

That jaunty phrase to ‘egg someone on’ (first attested in1566) in the sense of urging someone to do something, especially something risky or offensive, in fact has a different history, deriving from the Middle English verb eggen, from Old Norse eggja (to incite). The base is again a noun, egg, but this time meaning the edge, of, for example a blade or a cliff, from Proto-Germanic *agjō, from Proto-IndoEuropean *h₂eḱ- (sharp, pointed), so the goading or provoking here involves pushing someone nearer or over a boundary (though some think it’s pushing with the figurative or literal edge of a sword). Lexicographers all insist that the expression ‘over-egg the pudding’ comes from this sense, supposedly referring to excessive mixing or beating, rather than – more logically – from the idea of adding too many eggs to the mixture and ruining its texture.

In the 18th and 19th centuries darning eggs (made of stone or wood and used to fill out a garment being mended) and egg-shaped trinket or needle boxes for adults became popular; the egg-shaped toy containers which were given to children at Easter were usually made of tin, sometimes of cardboard covered with velvet and satin, and filled with miniature gifts or sweets. The first chocolate Easter eggs were created in France and Germany in the early 19th century and were solid, as the technology required for hollow shells was not yet in place. The first (dark) chocolate egg produced in the UK was sold by J.S Fry of Bristol in 1873: John Cadbury followed in 1875 and by 1905 was mass-producing hollow milk chocolate eggs, often filled with sugared almonds. In a reversal in 2017 The Solid Chocolate Company boasted – erroneously – that they had produced the world’s very first solid (Belgian) chocolate egg, weighing 750gm and retailing at £24.99.

 

Image result for Fry's chocolate  eggs

 

For more European translations of ‘egg’ and their etymologies:

https://www.reddit.com/r/etymologymaps/comments/5umohl/etymology_map_for_the_word_egg_in_european/

 

 

 

 

IN ONE BASKET – OF THE EGG, AT EASTER

 

Image result for egg slang

 

I have been, all too predictably, seasonally, thinking about the egg, its role in the imminent Easter festivities which will be the subject of the next post, but also reexamining the little word itself, so commonplace, so rarely considered.

Image result for easter humpty dumpty

I’ll look at its etymology in the next post, too, but not surprisingly the egg has featured in English slang, at least since the first recorded attestations in the 16th century, but its various slang senses, until very recently, have been disappointingly obvious and unengaging.

The main senses and sub-senses of slang egg can be listed as follows, roughly in order of chronological record, and also in rough order of frequency of use (examples of these usages are listed by my fellow slang specialist and sometime collaborator, Jonathon Green, in his monumental Green’s Dictionary of Slang)

1.

  • From its physical resemblance, (ovoid, containing viscous fluid, a seed of life): Testicle 
  • From its resemblance, (ovoid, hard surface, hollow, precious content): Head
  • From resemblance, (hollow container): Bomb
  • From resemblance, (hollow container or roughly oval pellet): Capsule, Tablet (of an illicit substance)

2.

  • By extension, from the notion of a unit, organism (heard in the obsolescent expressions in ‘posh’ British English ‘a good egg/bad egg’): Person
  • Specified, perhaps with reference to simple form (in New Zealand slang this is a common insult, though some claim it is inspired by d. below): Fool
  • Further specified, perhaps with added reference to fragility: Dupe
  • Clipped form of the colloquial expression denoting an individual with overdeveloped brain-function/intellectual prowess: Egghead

Related image

 

So far, so unexciting. More recently, though, the same word has been adopted for new purposes, encoding fresh and interesting ideas. These, in no particular order, are:

  1. A transgender person who hasn’t yet embraced or revealed their identity. The usage plays on the notion of ‘a chick or a cock on the inside’. In August 2017 ‘happycookie’ posted the following on the Urban Dictionary website:

     ‘…If they’re unsure whether they want to transition they’re a scrambled egg. If they                    supposedly really dislike transgender people but still constantly talk about them                    they’re a hard-boiled egg’

          The term can also apply to someone who has newly acknowledged their identity,                or recently transgendered, by analogy with ‘newly hatched’.

 

  1. A white person who wishes to be or pretends to be ‘Asian’ (in the American sense of Japanese, Chinese, etc., formerly denoted by ‘oriental’). Urban Dictionary has a first and only mention from 2003, explaining that such a person is ‘white on the outside, yellow on the inside’. But there’s more here:

 

  1. An anonymous online troll, typically using the Twitter social network. In April 2017 Twitter stopped using the egg-shaped blank as its default avatar and substituted a gender-neutral silhouette, saying that it wished to ‘prompt more self-expression’ but more probably as the word egg had come to signify a malicious, anonymous user, typically male, who harassed other accounts, typically not anonymous and female. Twitter egg had also been used since 2010 as an insult directed at users who retained the egg default because they were too inept to create their own profile picture.

 

  1. In texting abbreviation and acronyms capitalised EGG has been used for ‘Enlightened Grammar Geek’, ‘Exceedingly Great Grooves’, and by gamers for ‘Elemental Gimmick Gear’

 

  1. An Easter egg in the jargon of computing, videogaming and video production is an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or a secret feature, planted inside a computer program, video game, menu screen or electronic device, for instance, or only accessible by secret commands. The usage derives from having to search for hidden prizes on a traditional Easter egg hunt.

 

Image result for easter egg hunt

 

  1. To egg (someone) as a verb is not really slang, but an informal term, originating in British usage, for flinging eggs at a victim, typically as a way of expressing contempt for a public figure. (I’ll deal with the phrase ‘to egg (someone) on’ in the next post.)

 

  1. The adjective eggy, sometimes eggsy, meaning nervous, agitated or moody, or peculiar, irritating or hostile, heard in US and British slang since the 1980s, is of uncertain origin. It may not be related to eggs, but be an adaptation of the colloquial ‘edgy’ or (putting someone) ‘on edge’.

 

  1. As adjective eggy can mean also excellent, of which it may be a playful distortion, in UK playground slang, since the 1990s.

Image result for egg emoji

  1. In multiethnic British street slang eggs-up can mean intrusive, too curious or nosy. It probably comes from Jamaican ‘patois’ where it can also describe showing off or taking advantage of another person. The connection with actual eggs, if there is one, is unclear.

 

  1. While on the same subject, Jamaican English often pronounces the word as ‘hegg’, while in Irish slang a yoke is an unnamed object. There must be other senses of the e-word in popular conversation and online use, as yet unrecorded. If you know of any, please do send them to me (and you will be thanked and credited in any future writings).

 

 

Image result for egg slang

 

‘BAD’ LANGUAGE RE-REVISITED

In the last post we looked at ways in which women use, and are judged for using, so called ‘bad language’ while earlier posts addressed the n-word and the b-word. Swearing, perennially a contentious topic, has been trending on social media, in the press and, to an extent, has featured in academic discussion, in the UK at least, since the beginning of this year. The ESL teachers’ periodical The EL Gazette asked me for a short opinion piece on whether and how the subject could be approached in the classroom.

Here is a very slightly longer version of the article they printed…

DON’T LET YOUR STUDENTS DOWN – TEACH THEM SWEAR-WORDS!?@#$~!?

We have to hope that, although as a nation we are famous for ‘effing and blinding’, ‘bad language’ is not the first kind of language our visiting students encounter. Sooner or later, though, many teachers will decide it’s time to broach the topic, or else their students will demand that they do.

For learners trying to grapple with TV and movie dialogue, song lyrics or real-life or electronic conversations we can begin by helping them decode what used to be called the ‘four-letter words’, the ‘f-word’, the ‘sh-word’, the ‘c-word’. Judging by the language trending on social media and in the UK press we may need to add the ‘tw-word’ too. Nowadays, as surveys have shown, in British English ethnic or gendered slurs – the ‘n-word’, the ‘b-word’ in particular – are just as shocking if not more so, especially for a younger generation much less bothered by old-fashioned sexual or religious oaths.

Teachers will need to negotiate cultural sensitivities very carefully while they explain these terms (and students may lack the surrounding language required to make sense of them; the medical terms for parts of the body or sexual activities for example), then perhaps learners can identify equivalents in their own languages and consider the moral or social assumptions that come with them.

But beware: teaching taboo language at anything but the most basic level demands a lot of teachers. They must understand the linguist’s concept of ‘appropriacy’, the fact that the force of a swearword varies according to who uses it and in what circumstances. Expletives may be used in the heat of the moment to express pain or anger, casually to reinforce friendship or shared interests as well as deliberately to insult and provoke. Teaching them presupposes too an awareness of nuances of meaning – the terms don’t mean exactly the same thing for all ages, genders or nationalities. Finally, you must remind your students that while it’s a good idea to understand swearing it’s almost impossible to swear convincingly in a foreign language, and trying to do that is likely to provoke at best mockery, at worst instant physical retaliation.

                                                                        *  *  *

I hope to follow this, no more really than a squib, with a more detailed consideration of how this tricky subject can be taught – with strategies, examples and ideas for exploitation – and to consider, too, whether what has been called the ‘aesthetic of expletive avoidance’ – deliberately not using rude words – or finding wittier alternatives to those brutal monosyllables may not in fact be more creative, more fulfilling and more productive for students and instructors.

In the meantime, here are links to some relevant recent articles with a bearing on the subject…

https://www.wired.com/story/the-science-of-why-swearing-physically-reduces-pain/

 

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/call-the-fishwife-thoughts-on-sex-class-and-swearing/

 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029216301352

 

https://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21735577-new-book-explores-subtle-and-strategic-art-swearing-power-profane-language

 

…the very latest, from April 2018…

Mind your tongue: teen swearers perceived as less trustworthy and less intelligent

 

 

Image result for swearing emoji

Linguist Stan Carey has written on ‘expletive avoidance’ as a literary device and also on how alternatives to expletives may be deployed in popular culture. He has kindly shared those insights, which are reproduced here…

https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/literary-expletive-avoidance/

https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/freak-those-monkey-fightin-melon-farmers/

 

BADMOUTHING LADIES?!

Image result for profanity

I talked last week to London journalist Faima Bakar about the varying reactions to ‘bad language’ as manifested by men and women. In her investigations she is still finding that many males routinely chastise females, telling them that swearing is unattractive and inappropriate.

Both genderfluidity and the questioning of gender norms have fundamentally changed perceptions of feminine behaviour and of masculine responses too. At the same time the effects of social media in empowering women and giving them an equal voice have been transformative. But we can see from the messages exchanged on social media that many men have not evolved, cling to macho attitudes whereby  – probably because they feel embattled and insecure – they choose to, or pretend to believe in such dated concepts as ‘ladylike women don’t use bad language.’

Swearing as a male trait is definitely embedded in 20th – century and to some extent 21st -century attitudes and assumptions: According to Jay (2000), individuals having high scores on the trait of masculinity will also swear most frequently, and:

https://books.google.si/books?id=00EsBwAAQBAJ&pg=PA140&lpg=PA140&dq=swearing+masculine+trait&source=bl&ots=PfQoPlse0w&sig=_FVQD7VghjJfaC-IiamKKym6HPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjmuv3NidjYAhVHIewKHTpyAgMQ6AEILTAB#v=onepage&q=swearing%20masculine%20trait&f=false

Studies have shown that more honest and more intelligent people swear more – which may be a justification, if one is needed, for women’s effing and blinding in the 21st century!

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/swear-wearing-honesty-lie-more-honest-facebook-psychology-cambride-university-maastricht-hong-kong-a7512601.html

Despite this evidence, perceptions of those who swear call in question the notions of honesty and sincerity – and intelligence.

Mind your tongue: teen swearers perceived as less trustworthy and less intelligent

Swearing is the language of power and indulging in it is part of the public or private exercising, or performing of power and of the celebration of it. Women’s language, as formerly perceived, was the language of powerlessness or reticence:

https://www.academia.edu/2962962/Profanity_and_Gender_a_diachronic_analysis_of_mens_and_womens_use_and_perception_of_swear_words?auto=download

In a patriarchal society men impose taboos, then men claim the power to break those taboos – such as by using profane or offensive language. It’s very interesting to me not just that women are now reclaiming power in society and are swearing but that they are consciously using swearing as a statement of that power. This is evidenced, for example, on Twitter where there are many feisty (I’m aware that the word can be male code for ‘uppity’), witty, outspoken women who boast in their profiles or in their tweets that they are ‘sweary’. These tweeters, who include comedians, actors and writers as well as numerous unknown impresarios of obloquy, tease, mock and criticise offensive or unreconstructed males and use very rude words in doing so.

Here’s Faima’s article, with her own original insights and conclusions, in today’s Metro newspaper:

Do men find women who swear unattractive?

Faima has written on the same subject before, with some contributions by me too. Here is a link to that article, with some additional observations:

https://tonythornesite.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/not-girls-talk/

On a personal note, although I’m a linguist and obliged to treat ‘taboo’ language with absolute objectivity, and although I challenge the right of others to invoke moral or social disapproval, I still, hypocritically perhaps, criticise my own partner (who is not a native speaker of English) and my teenage son for being pottymouths, pointing out that delighting indiscriminately in expletives (which they both do) nearly always implies a lack of respect for hearers. Linguists assert that language can’t be viewed in isolation, but depends always on context, on the speaker or writer’s intent and on audience. Judgements can be made but based on what they call ‘appropriacy’ – the suitability of an utterance to its time, place and to those on the receiving end. If foul language is used, it should be indulged in only in the right setting – between friends who willingly join in, as part of a private conversation, a performance, even a Twitter tirade.

An update: ten days after Faima’s article was published Debbie Cameron responded on her blog:

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/call-the-fishwife-thoughts-on-sex-class-and-swearing/

And in March Emma Byrne treated the same subject in Elle magazine:

https://www.elle.com/life-love/a19431418/swearing-double-standard/

 

 

YULETIDE EMBLEMS

Christmas is almost upon us, with its more-than-familiar seasonal decorations and traditions. Here are some brief etymologies…

 

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Mistletoe (Viscum album: Latin for ‘sticky white’) is from Old English mistel (mistletoe, birdlime – in modern German Mist means dung or ‘crap) and Old English tan (twig): the ‘toe’ component came about in the Middle English period, probably as a result of scholars misreading the –an of tan as a plural ending.

Roman chronicler Pliny the Elder reported that the Druid shamans encountered in 1st century AD Britain revered the parasitic plant. They used it in sacrificial rituals and ‘believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons’. Later Norse mythology describes the beloved god Baldur being killed by a shaft of mistletoe, the only living thing that had, because of its innocent insignificance, not been sworn to protect him.

The bird known in English as the mistle thrush doesn’t kiss under but snacks upon mistletoe berries. Its Latin name is turdus (thrush) viscivorus from the noun viscum (mistletoe) and the verb devorare (to devour).

 

 

Holly is from Middle English ‘holi’, from Old English hole(g)n, itself from Proto-Germanic *hulin from a posited Proto-IndoEuropean root *kel- meaning prick or cut. We can compare modern Cornish kelynn, Welsh celyn. Holly was once thought to be immune to lightning strikes and legend held that its berries had been white until the blood of Christ dyed them. The plant’s vigour in winter, when most other vegetation had withered or died, led pagans and Christians alike to take it as a sacred token, blending notions of immortality with the suffering symbolised by its prickly leaves.

Its fellow evergreen, Ivy, is from Middle English ‘ivi’, Old English īfiġ, from Proto-Germanic *ibahs, originating in Proto-IndoEuropean *(h₁)ebʰ-, a word used for several different plants with pointed leaves. Ivy was in mediaeval times believed to be female, and then and later was also thought to ward off the effects of alcohol (tavern drinks were sometimes served in cups made of its wood) and to protect against evil when used as a wreath or garland.

One of the best-known Christmas carols, first published in 1710 but certainly older, memorably unites the two plants…

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir
 

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir
 

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir
 

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir
 

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir
 

The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir 
 

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Carol was adopted from the Old French carole, from Old Italian carola, Latin choraula, a borrowing of Greek χοραυλής (khoraulḗs),  the word designating a flute player accompanying a chorus, from χορός (khorós), choir, dance. In French the verb caroler was used in the 14th century of dancing in a circle, while the English noun had come to mean a Christmas ‘hymn of joy’ by 1500.

BAD BUZZWORDS!?

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I talked last week to New York-based journalist Zoe Henry about the worst buzzwords of the year so far, and her article for Inc.com follows.

Here, first, are some of the points that came up in our conversation.

‘I think we can and should distinguish between business or corporate buzzwords (like ‘disruption’, ‘digital native’, ‘pivot’), political buzzwords (‘libertarian’, ‘alt-right’, ‘antifa’, ‘fake news’ in the US; ‘brexiteer’, ‘remoaner’, most recently ‘mutineer’ in the UK) and lifestyle buzzwords (‘side-hustle’, ‘woke’, ‘influencers’). There are however some words that overlap these categories: ‘resilience’ is one that is still trending in the UK in 2017, ‘storytelling’ and ‘holistic’ are others. I think it’s especially significant that examples of  political/sociocultural discourse like ‘weaponize’, ‘elite’, ‘toxic’, and slangy terms like  ‘snowflake’, ‘cuck’ or ‘libtard’ have dominated the conversation on both sides of the Atlantic in 2017. These are expressions that both reflect and evoke the unprecedented conflict and division in society that have been witnessed since the US election and the UK’s EU referendum.

Tedious buzztalk has increasingly involved generational or generationalist categorisation, conflict or prejudice: ‘Generation Z’, ‘parennials’, ‘centennials’ – ‘snowflakes’ again – are examples of the terms in use: opinion pieces listing millennials’ supposed failings or misdeeds are commonplace. This kind of language is evidence of commerce, politicians and the media trying to stage and exploit imagined or real ‘disconnects’ between babyboomers, millennials and the intervening Generation X, not for the common good but for their own devious purposes.

A word like ’empathy’ – an existing word and concept which suddenly starts trending -may be annoying when it’s over-used but points to something important happening in society. In this case the need to refocus on this quality in a divided, hypercompetitive and often uncaring environment.

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Nearly all buzzwords follow the same trajectory:

  1. A buzzword appears and catches on because it defines some important innovation (‘AI’ for example or ‘fintech’, ‘blockchain’, ‘cryptocurrency’, ‘algorithm’ or ‘internet of things’) – a new device, process, way of behaving, a fashion or fashion item or fad. The ‘buzz’ comes about naturally if the new concept is truly significant, or artificially because it is hyped by the media.
  2. People who want to appear up-to-date or ‘cool’ adopt the buzzword (whether they fully understand it or not – ‘digital’ or ‘mindfulness’ are often cited, ‘portability’ is another offender) in order to impress – or if they are part of the corporate sphere, to assert their power, to dominate. The user of the jargon presents themselves as an informed progressive insider: those who don’t use the jargon are excluded or subordinated.
  3. The buzzword is over-used and becomes a cliche: the phrase ‘reach out’ and the word ‘craft’ are cases in point. It may be ridiculed and mocked  by sophisticates, castigated by self-appointed guardians of traditional language (but some people will go on using it nevertheless).
  4. Buzzwords eventually fall out of favour but this doesn’t happen quickly. Terms like ‘think outside the box’, often singled out in surveys as a recent irritant have actually been ‘on trend’ for a decade. ‘Frictionless’ has been around for some time but is just now at peak popularity, while one of Macmillan’s Dictionary’s words of 2017, ‘maximalism’ featured in Shoot the Puppy, my dictionary of buzzwords published in 2006, (which also listed the by-then-ten-year-old metaphorical meaning of ‘bandwidth’, on Zoe Henry’s hitlist and discussed today by Merriam Webster’s word-watchers: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/what-is-the-new-meaning-of-bandwidth)’

(On a personal note I must admit that there are some labels or catchphrases that, however contentious or ludicrous they are, don’t especially upset me: both ‘centrist dad’, coined in the UK to deride middle-aged males who are too liberal either to embrace the left or attack the right, and ‘hand-wringing metropolitan elitist’, a slur beloved of conservatives, if I’m honest seem to describe me perfectly.)

Here, then is Zoe’s article, with her own selection of 2017’s worst buzzwords:

https://www.inc.com/zoe-henry/worst-buzzwords-2017.html

…And here is my earlier piece on the same subject from The Conversation in which I try to make the point that buzzwords may not always merit only condemnation:

https://theconversation.com/translated-the-baffling-world-of-business-jargon-52795

…Coincidentally, 24 hours after the above was posted, Andre Spicer, castigator of ‘business bullshit’, writes in The Guardian. He makes the rarely made historical connection between jargon and the terminology of therapy, but his condemnation of all ‘management speak’ is not nuanced enough to my mind:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/23/from-inboxing-to-thought-showers-how-business-bullshit-took-over

…Evidence here, from CBS News, that it’s political buzzwords which have dominated this year:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/2017-contenders-for-word-of-the-year/

 

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STILL BEWITCHED

In my last post I looked at the names of a range of Hallowe’en creatures and investigated their origins. Let’s now consider, too, the practitioners of magic – whether supernatural or real –  impersonated in today’s festivities.

 

 

The most familiar of these, the witch, derives its modern name, in use since the 16th century,  from the Old English wicce (the feminine form) or wicca (the masculine), first attested as long ago as 890 CE, or perhaps was coined later from the verb to bewitch, descending from Old English wiccian. Many commentators have proposed a prehistoric origin for the English terms, but have not managed to agree on what that origin might be. Middle Low German, the nearest neighbouring language to ours, had wicken and wicheln for bewitch, but there are no other contemporary cognates (provably related words) recorded elsewhere in mediaeval Europe.

 

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Attempts have been made to connect the Germanic witch-words with Indo-European roots denoting contorting (as when shamans are performing incantations), waking (the dead for instance) or casting lots (to determine destiny), but these are unconvincing. There is an unproven but more plausible link with Slav words derived from the Old Slavonic verbs meaning ‘to know’ which use the root ved- or wied-. Female witches were, in English too, described as ‘wise’ women, as in the equivalent Slovenian vedomec, or Polish wiedźma. The modern German name for witch, hexe, is probably, but again not provably, related to English hag, (Old English haegtesse) an ancient word which persisted in use among the superstitious in the United States, who also adopted ‘hex’ in the 19th century from Pennsylvanian German as a synonym for curse.

(Our relatively innocent domestic companion, the cat, could also double as a witch’s evil familiar, and nowadays as a Hallowe’en character in its own right. Its name, catte in Old English, is obviously related to Dutch kat and German Katze and more distantly to the earlier Latin cattus and Greek catta. Intriguingly, though, the word’s origin might not be Indo-European at all but Afro-Asiatic; in the Nubian language it is kadis, for Berbers kaddîska, and in Arabic qitt.)

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The witch’s male counterpart, the wizard, certainly does derive his name from wisdom or knowing. Wisard, from Old English wys, wise and the suffix (originally French) -ard meaning person, first described a sage or a philosopher before mutating in the 16th century into the practitioner of magic we nowadays caricature in pointed hat and robe. The synonyms sorcerer or sorceress come from French sorcier, enchanter or magician, itself from Latin sors meaning fate, oracular pronouncement, from an Indo-European root denoting binding and sorting.

 

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I’m personally highly resistant to clowns in any form, but particularly the grotesque killer clowns that have been running amok in popular literature, cinema and even public places for the last couple of years. Forgive me, then, if I limit myself to etymology. The noun clowne (cloyne was a variant that has since disappeared) appeared in English in the 1560s, the verb form in 1600. The word originally signified a rustic, a clumsy peasant or simpleton. It is not clear exactly where it came from – some eminent authorities have tried to link it to the Latin colonnus, a farmer or settler, but it seems to others – and to me – that it’s no coincidence that similar-sounding words existed in Scandinavian and Low German usage, all related to our own ‘clod’ and ‘clump’ and evoking something lumpy, dense and crude. English dialects and the English of the tavern often adopted colloquialisms from other parts of Northwest Europe in the Early Modern period. Clown was first used to describe a costumed and painted circus performer in the 1720s and other languages including Welsh, French, Swedish and Slovenian subsequently borrowed the English word in this sense.

 

...and a very last word on this year’s festival, Marketing Week‘s snapshot of the commercial implications:

https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/10/27/why-halloween-is-now-crucial-to-some-uk-brands/?cmpid=em~newsletter~weekly_news~n~n&utm_medium=em&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=weekly_news&eid=4232955&sid=MW0001&adg=E5AE84A1-4595-4F7C-B654-36202215BA19

 

THE VAMPIRE AND ITS COMPANIONS – ORIGINS AND ETYMOLOGIES

Image result for goblin mediaeval manuscripts

 

The reanimated (it had virtually disappeared in Britain until revived in the 1980s in its American incarnation) festival of Hallowe’en draws ever nearer, and its ghastly avatars begin to assemble in the darkness. Wearyingly familiar though their images have become, thanks to commercialisation, the origins of these bugbears’ names are not always straightforward. The lurid orange pumpkin has mutated, its modern name an alteration of ‘pompone’ and ‘pumpion’ which could designate either melon or pumpkin in the 1540s. The English word was adopted from French pompon, from Latin peponem, meaning only melon, from the earlier Greek pepon. The ‘-kin’ suffix, meaning little or cute, was borrowed from Middle Dutch, the ‘pom/pum/pep’ component probably an example of prehistoric sound symbolism whereby the puffing required to say the words imitates the inflation of the bulbous object itself.

In fact it was more often the turnip that was hollowed out and illuminated in England, Scotland (where they are known as ‘tumshies’) and Ireland until recently, pumpkins being an American favourite. But there is a very odd connection between two of Hallowe’en’s most potent symbols in a 19th-century report by the Slovene folklorist Wiesthaler who writes that superstitious Balkan Gypsies believed that pumpkins (and watermelons too) could become possessed and exhibit vampiric characteristics.

 

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Hobgoblin (the ‘hob-‘ is a familiarising nickname, from Hobbe, a variant form of Robbe or Robin) or goblin appeared in English in the 14th century with the sense of mischievous ugly devil or fairy. It was probably borrowed from 12th century French gobelin which is thought to be related to mediaeval German kobold, a household or subterranean sprite, and possibly to the older Greek kobalos which denoted an impudent rogue. Sprite, incidentally, is a modern pronunciation of the Middle English ‘sprit’, a shortened form of spirit, while spook is an old Dutch word of mysterious origin borrowed by Americans in the early 19th century.

Ghosts are named from Old English gast which meant spirit or soul and could also mean breath. The ‘h’ was added in the 15th century, probably by printers influenced by the Flemish or Middle Dutch form of the word, gheest. Both are related to German geist, spirit, which comes from the presumed proto-Germanic *gaistaz, itself from a presumed Indo-European root *gheis– used to form terms conveying amazement and/or fright. In the same category are the phantom, from Greek phantasma (unreal image, apparition) which became Old French French fantosme before being borrowed by English, the spectre retains the French form of a Latin word for an apparition,  spectrum, from the verb specere, to see. Wraith, on the other hand, is a Scottish word, recorded in the 15th century but of unknown provenance. It has been suggested that it is related to writhe or to wrath, or to an Old Norse word, vǫrðr, a guardian spirit or watcher.

 

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Though its spelling now makes it look like a relative of ghost, ghoul was originally Arabic غول gul, the name of an evil spirit, a desert demon recorded in Islamic folklore and said to haunt cemeteries, devour newly-buried cadavers, abduct children and attack travellers. Its root is a verb meaning to seize and it is probably related to galla, a very ancient Akkadian and Sumerian term for a fiend from the netherworlds. The word was anglicised, first as ‘ghul’, in the late 18th century.

 

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Zombie, first recorded in English in an 1819 guidebook to Brazil and popularised in movies of the 1930s, comes via the Haitian Creole word zonbi and Caribbean French zombi, denoting an animated corpse, a staple of voodoo folklore, transplanted from zumbi, fetish and n-zumbi, originally the name of a snake god, in the Kumbunu and Kikongo languages of West Africa.

 

De weerwolf, of wolf-man komt uit de Europese folklore. In het Frans ook wel bekend als loup-garou. Eigenlijk werden de verhalen later pas bekend, maar er zijn wel kleine aanwijzingen te vinden van verhalen rond (of voor) 1200.

 

The werewolf combines the ancient name of the ravenous animal – wulf, later wolf – with the Old English wer, man, which shares an origin with Latin vir (from which we get virile, manly). In the 13th century wer fell out of usage, but the compound expression survived, as it did in other Germanic languages.

For me, though, because I have studied it, and because it is the most complex, the most protean of these beings, it is the vampire whose attributes and incarnations are the most fascinating. The bat was, in Old English, until the 14th century, the bakke, related to Old Scandinavian words such as natbakka, literally ‘nightflapper.’ By 1570, however, ‘bat’, a country dialect alternative, had become the preferred form.

The story of ‘vampire’ is more convoluted. We know that the word came to us in the 18th century via German from Serbian, but its ultimate origins and meaning are complex. Here, in fragments from a quite old – if not truly ancient –  publication are some thoughts on the enduring legend of the thirsty undead…

 

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The ‘old book’ extracts are from my own 1999 title, Children of the Night:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Children-Night-HB-Vampires-Vampirism/dp/0575402725

The venerable ancestors of our modern shapeshifters, from the classical era, are discussed in this two-part blog by Sententiae Antiquae:

Halloween is Next Week: Time for Werewolves!

The Child-Killing Lamia: What’s Really Scary on Halloween is Misogyny

Lastly, possibly the most monstrous Hallowe’en disguise this year is revealed by The Poke:

https://www.thepoke.co.uk/2017/10/26/british-kids-dressing-donald-trump-halloween/#.WfHT-Gpw0jA.twitter