Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pim-holes and Jeremy Hunts

Swearing is all over the media, literally in the case of Radio 4 last week which delighted/shocked (delete as appropriate) its listeners with two unintended utterances of one of the rudest words in the English language. It's a word so rude that if I typed it here, you would never again be able to read this blog at a school or a college, so I won't*.

Anyway, the use of this dreaded word appeared to be a genuine mistake on the part of the Today programme's James Naughtie, as he tried to trail the appearance of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary (as you can hear from this clip of his slip). Later that morning, on the same station, Andrew Marr repeated the word while talking about the error Naughtie had made. Naughtie later made an apology, claiming that the mistake was a Spoonerism, a substitution of initial sounds between two words (try swapping the initial consonants of "shining wit" or the name of circus accessories store, "Cunning stunts" and you'll see what I mean).

So, why the outrage? Well, swearing still upsets lots of people even though lots of us do it and have done for centuries. This article by Jonathan Margolis from back in 2002 looks at how attitudes to swearing have changed over the years and provides a bit of background, but if you want a really detailed look at bad language, you could do no worse than put Peter Silverton's Filthy English on your Christmas list.

Sometimes though, our willingness to be shocked can be rather odd. This report on the UK Polling Report site tells us that 61% of respondents in a recent survey thought that the word pim-hole should either never be broadcast on TV or only ever broadcast after the watershed. That's pim-hole. It doesn't actually exist as a real word, outside this 1990 Fry and Laurie sketch about swearing. The full report is available from YouGov here and contains strong language. Obviously.

We've looked at swearing before and you can find some interesting stuff here and here. Also, Steven Pinker's most recent book, The Stuff of Thought, features some really interesting stuff on the links between swearing and language evolution, which these short lectures throw a bit of light upon:

and:

*But what I can tell you is that it's a word most sensible people say whenever George Osborne appears on TV.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

'Cunning Stunts' has been, as you say, a Circus Shop, but also one of the first feminist theatre troupes, touring in the early 1970s; the name of a fictional play in 'Transparent Things' by Vladimir Nabokov (1972); an album by Caravan (1975) and Cows (1992); and a video by the band Metallica (1998).

Dan said...

Great name for a feminist theatre troupe! Reclaiming the word and all that. I didn't know about these other ones - thank you.