Strange Charmed Life Reaction and bad language

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Mon Apr 9 13:07:29 EDT 2001

> "cuss words" is a new term to me.

Interesting.  I've met it a lot, but mainly in US books.  OTOH doesn't Jamie use
this term near the beginning of Homeward Bounders?

> I never thought that the b-words were really bad, although I'd avoid using
> them to e.g. teachers at my son's school, old ladies, strangers and
> boyfriend's parents. However, in an effort to swear less (I'm getting older
> and feel I ought to set a good example to my progeny) I have substituted
> b...! (the Sodom and Gomorrah variety) for f..! when I have, say, dropped
> something heavy on my foot.

At some point - I don't know exactly when; prob. teenage - I made a concious
decision to moderate my language.  I chose the time-honoured method of picking
mild expletives with the same initial phonemes as the rude ones I wished to

Bother for B****r

Fiddlesticks for F***

I had difficulty with Sh** - neither Shucks! nor Shame! seemed to work for me -
but I eventually ended up with "Shostakovitch!"

I never managed to replace Damn!, so the strongest word I use now is in the
mildest situations.

When I was at Cambridge, I adopted Zog!, which was popular among mathematicians
at the time.

Recently, I've found myself saying "Puke!" rather a lot.  I'm not sure where I
can take that, although I rather like Janet Chant's "Purple spotted

> As to dwj and Charmed Life, it would never have occurred to me that a rude
> word was being used. Someone said twee-ness was the intention and I'd be
> inclined to agree.

I looked that passage up at the weekend.  I had never considered that it might
have sexual connotations in that context, although I've come across it used that
way often enough.

I am quite sure that all that was meant was to search for the cat.  I can well
believe that the witch chose the phraseology to be rude, though.

> The reverse thing is true, though. We go to the lavatory/loo (posh) or the
> toilet (not posh), or just the bog (I read somewhere it's acceptable in the
> circles where toilet is not). You Transatlanteans go to the bathroom. We go
> to the bathroom to have a bath. Someone American said to me once that toilet
> was quite vulgar, and anyway it meant the actual throne, not the room
> wherein it resides.

Words from all over the place here.  "Loo" is supposed to be from "Guardez
l'eau!" which you shout before tipping the chamber pot out of the window (l'eau
being a bit of a euphemism...).  Lavatory is obviously just a Latin-root word
for bathroom.  Toilet I think of as meaning "getting dressed" - so a dressing
room?  I wonder.

Interesting how recent is the shift of meaning, too.  Among my books is a (UK)
textbook on electric wiring, circa 1917.  One of the exercises for the reader
gives a plan of a largish Edwardian house - the exercise being to mark on this
how you would wire it for electricity, etc.

The interesting bit is the loos.  One loo has no wash basin.  It is marked
"W.C."  The other loo does have a wash basin.  It is marked "Lavatory and W.C."

Finally, one more word that has different rudeness values in the UK and the US.
I had seen the term "fanny" used in American books for years before I discovered
it meant something quite different - and far less rude - in the US than in the
UK.  Quite a revelation for me!


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