[Northkeep] Four-letter fun
talana1 at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 19 07:14:18 PDT 2012
Those stories are always fun to read – like the “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” verdict supposedly written up by a Victorian judge. I still don’t know if the “SNAFU” origin story is real or not.
It's also a hoot that in period those words weren’t cuss words – they were part of every day language. The F-bomb may derive from any of several Germanic verbs for mocking, pushing, rubbing, and so forth. But that’s another story.
What we all know as an Anglo-Saxon noun for excrement is also Germanic in origin, and appears in period works that might surprise you:
A surgical text from 1400 (Ashmolean MS. 1386), advises a physician how to determine whether a constipated patient needs a clyster (enema) by how long it’s been since he last ****.
In Caxton’s 1484 edition of Easop’s fables, a frightened wolf ****s three times as an expression of his distress.
In John Bale’s play “A Comedy Concerning Three Laws of Nature, Moses and Christ” (1548), Bale penned the line “When ye have him in his grave, stamp him down until he ****s.” Oh, by the way, John Bale was an English Bishop. Look him up in Wikipedia if you don't believe me.
And, my favorite “they used that word where?” entry comes from the Wycliffe Bible. That’s right. A Bible. Around 1384 John Wycliffe pushed for reforms in the Church (long before Martin Luther), and oversaw the first translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. Deuteronomy 28 describes the various blessings that shall be showered upon a people who obey God’s law, then follows with a list of disgusting consequences of disobedience, of which verse 27 warns: The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. This wording is from the King James Version, which is just post-period – 1610. But Wycliffe’s text bypasses the word “emerods” (hemorrhoids) and gives instead “the parte of the bodye by the whyche tordes be shetyn out.” Yep, the word **** in the Bible. Thirty-six years after he died, Wycliffe was declared a heretic and Pope Martin V ordered his bones exhumed and burned, along with his books. But that was because he challenged Papal authority. I don’t think the Pope gave a **** about what words Wycliffe used in his translation – it was that Wycliffe dared translate the Bible that made him **** kittens.
Having too much fun with the Oxford English Dictionary this morning
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