The Effective Abolition of the Germanic Lexicon

February 9, 2014

It is endlessly amusing, to me, how worked up perfectly sane people will get over certain monosyllables. Why should a certain combination of sounds be considered offensive?

The historical reason, of course, goes all the way back to the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD. I wish I didn’t have to talk about the history of England like this, but the story is impossible without a bit of context – when the Normans came to England they imported their Latinate language, which became the new language of the elite in England, replacing Old English.

Out of that mix comes the language we use today, and still, almost a thousand years later, Latinate words are considered to be more polite and are used by educated people, whereas their Germanic counterparts are considered to be “vulgar”.

All of our best swearwords are Germanic in origin, and their latinate euphemisms are much more elegant.

Notice this example:

Hey, you, asshole! Your dog just shit on my lawn!

Which may be contrasted with:

Pardon me, esteemed interlocutor! Your canine companion has recently released a quantity of excrement upon my decorative extra-habitational pasture!

Or perhaps:

You filthy motherfucker, get your ass out of here!

Compared with:

Oh, you who have had intercourse with your female progenitor on various occasions, could you kindly remove your posterior from my vicinity?

Is it really relevant, in this day and age, whether we use words with latinate or germanic origins?

It shouldn’t be, but it is. If you want to see for yourself, just go use words like dick or cunt in polite conversation. It’s still shocking to me the response you can get from the good humored use of a certain combination of phonemes.

This topic merits further discussion, and I feel that linguistic puritanism doesn’t do anybody much good (but rather, just distracts people from much more important issues). Today, human life is better than it ever was, in many ways, and I doubt that it’s the effective prohibition of four letter words that’s made things what they are. Are your uptight spinster aunt or fourth grade teacher responsible for the average life expectancy doubling in such a few decades?  Is your nasty coworker who takes offense at everything out there reducing extreme poverty around the world in his free time? I doubt it!

My personal opinion is this – if you let other people’s vocabulary selection make you angry, you’re going to be angry every day. Better to let people be who they are and relax about it.

You can agree with me, or you can think I’m an asshole. That, of course, is up to you.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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