Friday, September 30, 2005

In the name of God!

With new blasphemy laws coming into effect in Britain, where it becomes a form of hate crime to attack another person's religion, a website set out to find out if its predominantly Christian audience were as easily offended as the law suggests. The website asked its readers to send in the most offensive religious jokes they had heard, and were apparently gob-smacked (or god-smacked, perhaps) to discover how gross and outrageous many of the jokes were - but also how little their audience really seemed to care! So are we becoming a society that believes anything is fair game for humour?

In an article in The Guardian earlier this week, several of the jokes are reprinted, while in a follow-up article Emo Philips, the comedian whose joke topped the poll, talks about his response to winning such a high accolade.

So, moving to the serious language point about all of this, how offensive is blasphemy in this day and age? Taking a look at the history of offensive language, you can see that many of the strongest taboo terms used to be oaths and curses with a religious connection. Just take a look at Shakespeare's use of "S'blood!" and "Zounds!" (God's blood and God's wounds, respectively) and you'll see that thses were the strongest expressions of his day.

People nowadays seem more offended by racist terms than religious ones, but as ever this shifts as language and society changes. Perhaps a good topic for a language investigation, if you're still struggling to come up with an idea...

Useful for:
EA4C - Language Investigation