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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: cursing and swearing

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The fact that English speakers have been using the word ‘fuck,’ since the sixteenth century is part of what inspired the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties. Yet, like so many other words, it remains taboo.

According to John Ruskin’s explanation, on this Writer’s Quote Wednesday, one might even go so far as to suggest that the F-bomb is both a curse and a swear word. One would be wrong to do so, but one might try. The word is capable of inflicting suffering, as well as (even simultaneously) making a statement, but that doesn’t mean that the word is or invokes a spirit, certainly not from within the religious context of Ruskin’s life.

John Ruskin, like Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, Robert Browning, and John Henry Newman, was raised as an Evangelical Anglican, and although he abandoned his earlier religious beliefs by 1858, his thought and writing long retained the mark of his early religion. – The Victorian Web

The very notion of cursing has religious roots, though curse words are obviously quite different from curses, or hexes, but, as Ruskin explains both have roots in the unChristian practice of wishing, or inflicting, harm on another person because, according to parts of the Bible, to do so is to act against God.

Likewise, swear words don’t really have anything to do with swearing an oath (which also has religious roots).

The earliest swear words were identical to curse words — taking the Christian God’s name in vain, or speaking of acts that were considered sinful. – Dictionary.com

While the act of cursing is different from the act of swearing, a ‘curse’ and a ‘swear’ are simple synonyms of explicit language. OMG most people don’t consider taking the Lord’s name in vain a curse anymore and a ‘cuss’ is just an early-nineteenth century bastardization of a ‘curse.’

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Making Demands of the Fisherman’s Daughter

fishermansdaughter

If he wants water

He makes a demand for the

Fisherman’s daughter

About a month and a half  ago, I began participating in WordPress’s blogging university classes. I’ve enjoyed the support and sense of community there so much that I’ve enrolled in a poetry class, just to keep participating. I don’t know how well poetry will work with the dictionary project, but I am willing to give it a try.

Today’s assignment was to compose a water-themed haiku. The literary device we were meant to use was the simile. Fishermans’ daughters don’t seem anything like water to me. I also don’t imagine them as the kind of people who respond kindly to being ordered about. Consequently, I dropped the ball on directly applying a simile to my haiku, and must confess that this is found poetry. It is the example sentence most often sited for the term “fisherman’s daughter,” rhyming slang for “water.”

This sentence was originally composed by D.W. Barrett in Life & Work Among the Navvies (1880). If, after reading this post, you find a use for the term “fisherman’s daughter,” feel free to tell me about it in the comments below.

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Victorian Bicycle Slang

hurdling

A great article in the Atlantic today tells us that Presidents Day in the US was associated with the bicycle craze at the end of the nineteenth century. This late nineteenth-century craze also fuelled the women’s suffrage movement, as women cycled, “wheeled,” and “hurdled” their way across landscapes toward more independent lifestyles.

It’s not difficult to imagine how cycling looked like hurdling to eyes that were seeing it for the first time.

As with any culture craze, a slew of new words were invented to speak of cycling, cyclists, and the things with which they surrounded themselves. Here are a few of my favourites.

1. pedal pusher n. this word might be used to describe the pantaloons worn by early woman cyclists, or the women themselves.

pedalpusher

2. wheelman/woman n. a man/woman who rides a bicycle, or tricycle.

headache

3. century n. a ride of 100 miles in 12 hours, or less.

4. bicycle face n. the mythical and unpleasant physiognomy caused by cycling (also a bit of propaganda used to scare people off of bicycles).

BicycleFace

5. scorcher n. one who cycles furiously.

Scorcher

There’s so much more on scorchers and “scorching” here! Scorchers were also called “road hogs” and “sprinters.” The term “road hog” is still applied to cyclists today, usually by motorists, who occupy much more space on the road.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Victorian Etiquette Manuals Reinforced Performative Gender Roles

heteronormative

Roses are red/Gender is performative/Mass Market Romance/Is heteronormative

This little gem started circulating throughout my social network last night and I couldn’t be happier.

“Roses are red” gives it a fun Valentine’s Day theme.

The nineteenth century illustrates how performative gender is even if they didn’t know it yet. The Victorian’s obsession with etiquette famously fuelled manuals on how to properly be a lady, or a gentleman.

Look up “homosexual in the OED Historical Thesaurus and the words begin in 1892 with Richard von Kraft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. Though they didn’t have the language to express it clearly, Victorian England periodically had homophobic heart attacks, as is evidenced in the case of Fanny and Stella, a pair of flamboyant trans-women.

Cross-dressing was popular in the nineteenth century and naturally part of the LGBT community. Yes, although they didn’t use that term for it, nineteenth-century England had an LGBT community. Women, like Fanny and Stella, were called “Mollies,” by people in the know, and could meet kindred spirits by frequenting “Molly Houses.”

Other words that emerged for homosexuals in the 1890s included: “Uranian” and “invert.” It was more polite to call your gay friend a “confirmed bachelor.” My other blog has more on the sexual orientation of men in the 1890s.

Lesbians were female “companions,” as in the case of the best-selling novelist, Marie Corelli, and her female companian, Bertha Vyver. People didn’t generally start worrying much about what lesbians were doing until the 1920s. Though, “Sapphism” became a thing in the eighteenth century. This term originated with the Greek poet Sappho who lived on Lesbos Island. All the terms related to Sappho can be traced through the Victorian Era and Wonder Woman comics.

Mass-market romance is still heteronormative even if gender-neutral terms of endearment have permeated our language throughout history. I’m happy to say that the digital era is making everything more democratic and entertaining. This Valentine depicts love between the Hulk and the Beast (of Beauty and the Beast). I love this one with Catwoman and Wonder Woman, but who doesn’t love Wonder Woman?

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A mini-guide for writing Victorian erotica

Ashbee

This post is about the language of sex.

“I loved cunt, but also she who had it; I like the woman I fucked and not simply the cunt I fucked, and therein is a great difference.” Excerpt From: Anonymous. “My Secret Life, Volumes I. to III. / 1888 Edition.

Erotica is a growing field of literature, especially in eBooks. Erotica is also a growing branch of historical fiction. My Secret Life by Walter is a great place to go for tips on how to make your nineteenth-century characters talk dirty to each other, until I am able to give you a copy of the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties of course!

My Secret Life is the memoir of a nineteenth-century gentleman’s sex life. It was first published over the course of about seven years, beginning in 1888. It’s long and repetitive, but offers a frank discussion of hidden aspects of nineteenth-century life.

Although the work is attributed to Herbert Spencer Ashbee, he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would talk about ‘fucking a cunt,’ but ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ were commonly used in Victorian pornographic literature. The words, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ predate Victorian literature by hundreds of years. That means it wasn’t just Victorians, who used those words, their grandparents used those words!

NaughtyWords

Other old words for female genitals include: ‘chose,’ ‘privy chose’ (the vulva), ‘honour,’ ‘muff,’ ‘pussy,’ ‘cunny,’ ‘bearing place,’ ‘lap,’ twat,’ and my personal favourite ‘crinkum-crankum.’ ‘Shell’ and words related to shells could also be related to female genitalia, like ‘conch’ and ‘cunnus.’

Male genitalia could be referred to as: ‘jock,’ ‘arrow,’ ‘loom,’ ‘member’ or ‘virile member,’ ‘virility,’ ‘needle’ (though if you used that now, it would sound like you were diminishing its size), ‘cock,’ ‘other thing,’ manhood,’ propagator,’’handle,’ ‘shaft,’ and ‘Roger.’ There are more specifically Victorian words for penises though, like ‘organ,’ ‘intromittent apparatus,’ ‘root,’ ‘middle leg,’ ‘pisser,’ and words that sound like names, including: ‘Dick,’ ‘Mickey,’ ’Johnson,’ ‘Peter,’ and ‘John Thomas.’ I’m sorry to anyone actually named ‘John Thomas.’

‘John Thomas canoodled her honour’ is a very Victorian sounding sentenced, but it doesn’t sound very sexy, like: ‘His middle leg was now in her lap.’

There are fewer words that are anachronistic to Victorian erotica. ‘Pecker,’ ‘willy,’ ‘dong,’ ‘wang,’ and ‘schlong’ have no place in nineteenth-century bawdy talk, whereas ‘cock’ is perfectly acceptable. If you are talking about lady parts, don’t say ‘snatch,’ or ‘beaver,’ but ‘cunt’ is fine, as Ashbee demonstrates (I think it was Ashbee, who wrote or compiled My Secret Life).

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Home… Soil… Rain…

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This is not exactly free association, but I’ve been inspired by the daily prompt to riff on home, soil, and rain with some Victorian words for you, as I look out my window and see nothing but snow.

Home played an integral role in Victorian culture. Victorian morality was built and maintained at home, and the home was presided over by those domestic angels, the wife and mother. ‘Householdy’ and ‘householdness’ were used the way millennials use ‘random’ and ‘addicting’ to describe things that aren’t random, or addictive, at all. (On a side note, ‘addictive’ is an adjective; if you put the suffix ‘ing’ on a word, it’s a verb.)

Boarding_house

In mid-nineteenth century American slang, a ‘drum’ was a house that was not a home, like a boarding house, or some other place that you slept regularly, but didn’t feel at home.

‘Home,’ in the larger sense of the word, isn’t just your house, but your town. ‘Ham’ was a Victorian abbreviation of ‘hamlet,’ and was recognized as meaning such as the suffix of popular surnames, like ‘Billingham.’ Around the time of the Boer War, the term ‘stad,’ with its Dutch roots, also increasingly referred to the town someone was from in English.

‘Soil’ also has feminine connotations because things grow inside Mother Earth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest recorded use of the term ‘Mother Earth’ refers to ‘her’ reproductive qualities.

“And all the while in bellie of His mother Earth it lies, The want of humour in the seede The moistie soile supplies.” – Mancinus & Dominicus, “The Plaine Path to Perfect Vertue,” 1568.

Doesn’t the Earth have enough problems without us throwing gender on it and debating its reproductive rights? Sometimes soil is just dirt.

It needs rain, which the Victorians enjoyed referring to as ‘waterworks,’ as in “The fireworks were put out by the waterworks.” Though, colloquially, that just makes us think of tears. When miserable people love company, our fireworks are extinguished by their waterworks.

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Bram Stoker’s Rules for Cursing

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.23.44 PMThis post is reposted from my other blog.

I must tell you beforehand that Mr. Morris doesn’t always speak slang—that is to say, he never does so to strangers or before them, for he is really well educated and has exquisite manners—but he found out that it amused me to hear him talk American slang, and whenever I was present, and there was no one to be shocked, he said such funny things. I am afraid, my dear, he has to invent it all, for it fits exactly into whatever else he has to say. But this is a way slang has. I do not know myself if I shall ever speak slang; I do not know if Arthur likes it, as I have never heard him use any as yet. – Bram Stoker, Dracula

In that passage from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lucy is writing to Mina. In it, she provides a wonderful peak into late-Victorian usage of colloquial language, from an upper-class woman’s perspective. Her description reminds me of when I first had to describe to my daughter the appropriateness of swearing:

“Certain words have the power to hurt people, some of those words also seem to amuse other people, and some of them are appropriate to use some of the time, but you have to be careful when using them. Pay attention to who you are speaking with, and never say anything like that in front of grandma, a teacher, or someone younger than you.”

That’s why Mr. Morris never speaks slang to strangers. He knows Lucy finds it funny, so he does it to make her laugh. As of yet, Lucy is not sure she will ever find an appropriate situation to use slang.

Passages throughout Dracula demonstrate how the use of slang and profanities was informed by gender and class.

In Dracula, Stoker makes the old seaman speak in a phonetically-spelled Whitby accent, littered with colloquialisms.

“An’ when you said you’d report me for usin’ of obscene language that was ’ittin’ me over the ’ead; but the ’arf-quid made that all right. I weren’t a-goin’ to fight, so I waited for the food, and did with my ’owl as the wolves, and lions, and tigers does. But, Lor’ love yer ’art, now that the old ’ooman has stuck a chunk of her tea-cake in me, an’ rinsed me out with her bloomin’ old teapot, and I’ve lit hup, you may scratch my ears for all you’re worth, and won’t git even a growl out of me. Drive along with your questions. I know what yer a-comin’ at, that ’ere escaped wolf.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula

I’ve never enjoyed reading phonetically spelled dialects, but this passage adds to what Lucy has to say about colloquial language by offering a working-class male perspective. Even as a working-class man, he recognizes that some words are obscene, though he appears to have developed such a habit of using obscene words that he doesn’t always remember to think about his audience when speaking.

Though this is just one late-Victorian writer’s perspective on the use of Victorian language, it’s something to consider when deciding whether a character you’ve set in the era would use the word ‘fuck.’