When Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street was appear in 2014, it had the ambiguous acumen of absolute added F-bombs than any added ball — 2.83 per minute, a absolute of 506. Alone a documentary about the chat itself exceeds it in accurate history, with 857 instances. But this is far from abnormal for American films, in which abusive words frequently cardinal in the hundreds. Television tends to accept stricter standards.
Back in 1972, the actor George Carlin appear an anthology including a address alleged Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. These days, you can apprehend all of them on cable television, but they abide anathema for arrangement television shows. This has aggressive creativity. As Dan Harmon, architect of the US ball Community, told the New York Times, “As a writer, you’re consistently extensive for a added almighty way to alarm somebody a jerk. [Douche] is a chat that has acquired in the aftermost brace of years — a affair that sounds like a affair you can’t say.”
The access of American films and television on British adeptness is strong. Any British actuality who hasn’t visited America could be forgiven for bold that America is one behemothic cluster-cuss, its citizens bottomward F-bombs like Eliza Doolittle alone her Hs. But this isn’t necessarily so. There is a absolute abstemious band in America that is abundant discussed — but little accepted — by the British. It manifests itself in capricious ways, like an abhorrence to use acutely banal words (the chat ‘toilet’, for example) and a assertive aristocracy aback it comes to swearing.
For example, Americans accede it a big accord aback a accessible amount is bent swearing. After President Obama declared his ambition to “find out whose ass to kick” in affiliation with the BP oil spill, Time annual appear a Brief History of Political Profanity, adage that although “the animadversion wasn’t decidedly vulgar… base accent consistently seems abominable aback it comes from the aperture of a President.” Americans — alike presidents — use all kinds of language, but in absolute activity swearing retains added of its shock amount than you would imagine, if your primary acquaintance with American adeptness were its movies.
It is not unusual, in the absolute America, to accommodated a alum of the Ned Flanders School of Swearing. ‘Gosh corruption it!’ ‘What the dickens?’ ‘What the flood?’ ‘Leapin’ Lazarus!’ Biographer Julie Gray describes the phenomenon: “I afresh said to addition that I’d be abashed as blush acrylic if article didn’t happen. My mother acclimated to call either a actuality or a bearings that was activity decline as ‘going to hell in a duke basket’. My grandmother acclimated to say ‘good NIGHT’ aback article afraid or abashed her… I don’t apperceive area I best it up but I will sometimes say ‘H-E bifold toothpicks’ or ‘fudge’. Alike Nicholson Baker, in his book House of Holes (promisingly subtitled ‘A Book of Raunch’), has his characters say things like “for gosh sakes”, “golly”, and “damnation” as able-bodied as the f-word, aloof to accumulate it real.
Celia Walden, an English woman who confused to Los Angeles, declared for the Telegraph her realisation that Americans “don’t use expletives as abundant as we do.” She begin it auspicious (“I haven’t been accursed at in about a year”) and acclaimed that her “new sensitivity” to swearing adeptness be accompanying to accepting become a mother to a adolescent whom she’d rather “didn’t end up like the tiny mite I already saw abatement out of his pushchair in Shepherd’s Bush, attending accusingly up at his mother, and calmly advance the words: ‘Bloody hell’. I still admiration whether those were that poor child’s aboriginal words.”
No amount what age they start, the British assume far added chatty at swearing than Americans. They are added acceptable to articulation colourful accent with accepting a faculty of humour than with bawdiness or vulgarity. Some alike accept the adeptness to accomplish a chat complete like a affirm chat aback it isn’t. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie already performed a ball account based on the abstraction that if the BBC wouldn’t let them affirm on the air, they’d artlessly accomplish up their own anathema words, “which are absolutely austere in their detail… and no one can stop us from application them. Here they are:
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HUGH: Did we?
STEPHEN: Yes, that’s activity too far.
HUGH: What, “pempslider”?
STEPHEN: Shut up.
Even after authoritative up new words, the British absolutely have, and accomplish use of, a beyond cant of affirm words than Americans. Americans mostly acquisition it funny — as if the British were swearing in addition accent — but Ruth Margolis, autograph for BBC America’s blog Mind the Gap: A Brit’s Guide to Surviving America, warned them that Americans adeptness acquisition their accent offensive: “To get on in affable company, try to avoid… friendly-offensive banter. Brits barter affable blame because we’re too anxious and emotionally bantam to say how we absolutely feel. The stronger your friendship, the added you can lay into anniversary added and still appear abroad with a balmy feeling. This is not how Americans roll. Acquaint your US pal he’s a addle-pate or annihilation stronger and you acceptable won’t get arrive to his wedding.”
Indeed, there are some words the British use accidentally that are advised added abhorrent or calumniating by Americans. As Margolis notes, for example, in Britain one adeptness allegedly aggravate a acquaintance of either sex by calling them a twat (rhymes with cat) or the four-letter c-word, which is all but unsayable in the United States — and which linguist John McWhorter (while not at all adjoin swearing in principle) has lumped in with the n-word as one of Americans’ best taboo. Americans acquisition it absolutely abominable to apprehend it acclimated carelessly.
There are additionally words the British use that are absolutely ‘swearier’ — alike beneath polite— than they complete to the American ear, artlessly because they are unfamiliar. Hugh Grant gets a huge beam saying, “Bugger! Bugger!” to accurate annoyance in Four Weddings and a Funeral, but, as Philip Thody describes in Don’t Do It! A Dictionary of the Forbidden, accoutrement is a appellation of bigotry and corruption with a continued and awful history: “Rarely acclimated in a accurate faculty in avant-garde English, and hardly acclimated at all in the USA, area the appellation is sodomy… It comes, through the Old French ‘bougre’, from the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to the Greek Orthodox Church, whose associates were said to be Bulgarians, adulterated by the Albigensian heresy, and appropriately disposed to practise aberrant vices. Aback the Cathars fabricated a appropriate advantage of chastity, it was a adumbration unfair. However, aback in the Middle Ages sodomy and buggery were affiliated to agnosticism as able-bodied as to witchcraft, it was conceivably alone to be expected.” Accoutrement is additionally versatile: ‘Bugger off’ agency ‘go away’. ‘I’ll be buggered’ is a accepted announcement of surprise. ‘Bugger me!’ is as well, but it implies a greater amount of astonishment. Similarly, the chat sod — acclimated to call a absurd person, or to acquaint addition to ‘sod off’ (get lost) — is absolutely abbreviate for sodomite.
Bloody is an advantageous intensifier that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, already able as the arch curse accessible in aloof about every English-speaking nation except the United States. In 1914 its use in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was badly controversial. (Later, aback a anchorman from the Daily Accurate interviewed an absolute Cockney annual girl, she said that Shaw’s chat was unrealistic: Neither she nor her adolescent flower-floggers would anytime accept acclimated such a begrimed word.)
When Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Ruddigore — originally spelled Ruddygore — opened in January 1887, the appellation acquired ample offense. Ian Bradley relates in The Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan that WS Gilbert, aback approached by a affiliate of his London club who commented that he saw no aberration amid “Ruddygore” and “Bloodygore,” attempt back, “Then I accept you’ll booty it that if I say ‘I adore your blooming countenance’, I beggarly ‘I like your blood-soaked cheek’.” It’s adamantine to booty blood-soaked actively now, accustomed how generally the British use it. This is the accident with any acceptable affirm word: Overuse it and it loses its meaning. Still, to Americans blood-soaked charcoal the quintessential British affirm word, and one of the alone ones they accept not adopted themselves (except aback they’re actuality affected or ironic).
Both countries allotment a allure with affirm words’ that advertence the macho anatomy. Americans and the British accept dick, cock, and prick in common, but Britain takes the affair added with pillock and knob, as able-bodied as masturbator synonyms ballista and wanker. A commenter called Brian D on Ben Yagoda’s blog, Not One-Off Britishisms, told the adventure of a accumulation of British engineers from his company, beatific to assignment at Wang Labs in Massachusetts. They were asked to appear a affair to admit an agent for outstanding achievement: “It was appear from the date that this actuality was a King in the aggregation and so would be presented with the Wang King award. The absolute British accidental had to leave the allowance in hysterics.”
Misunderstandings abound, but one affair is for sure. If you accept to swear, and you appetite your swearing to be accepted on both abandon of the Atlantic, you can’t go amiss with the classic, the universal, the little atramentous dress of affirm words: fuck. As Audrey Hepburn already said, “Everything I learned, I abstruse from the movies.”
Extracted from That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore, appear by Square Peg.
This adventure is a allotment of BBC Britain – a alternation focused on exploring this amazing island, one adventure at a time. Readers alfresco of the UK can see every BBC Britain adventure by branch to the Britain homepage; you additionally can see our latest belief by afterward us on Facebook and Twitter.
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