Sunday, 13 March 2016

Dr Johnson and Donald Trump swearing

"I wonder, however, that so many people have written who might have left it alone."
I just came across this line by Dr Johnson that is new to me and not in Boswell. 

Which reminded me of another line that is not in Boswell. Asked by David Garrick what
 was the greatest pleasure, Dr. Johnson said 

“f-king and second drinking, therefore he wondered why there were not more drunkards for all could drink tho' not all could f-k".
So we know the Great Cham used four letter words. By the end of the eighteenth century society had grown more prudish. The diarist Greville told Lord Holland, who loved Boswell's Life, that Johnson was 
a very coarse man. He said, 'Talk of pleasure, sir, the greatest pleasure is emission'.
I remember I was surprised at thirteen to find Herrick used the word fart, which seemed rude to me then. At university I read the obscene poems of Lord Rochester, which were not publishable until after the Chatterley trial. I remember reading somewhere of how Henry James and John Buchan (an odd coupling) came across them together. Buchan pronounced them disgusting but James said
disgusting yes, but exceptionally interesting.
I didn't think them too disgusting but rather good, but then that was in the 1980s and one of my favourite novelists was Martin Amis. The world was much coarser than John Buchan's.

On the subject of swearing, I just read Dilbert creator Scott Adams blogging today about Trump's coarseness.
You know who Trump offends with his cursing?
Answer: Other people.
You and I are not offended because we are awesome, and above it. We don’t get offended for dumb ass reasons. But we are quite certain that other people need protection from naughty words. I don’t know the names of any of those people, but surely they must exist. And I hope they live in bubbles because the world has a lot of awful words and ideas waiting for them in the real world.
Let’s stop pretending that other adults are offended by language. That isn’t a thing. We are offended ON BEHALF of people we imagine would be offended. But those people do not exist. Stop imagining offended people.
Actually they do exist and I am that man. I admit I do often get offended by four letter words, when written down, though I sometimes use them and context can excuse them. The word f-k offends me less than the others and I rather warm to pretty girls of good family who sprinkle them around, so I am completely inconsistent.  I dislike them on Facebook. 

It was a surprise to me that Trump got into trouble for agreeing with a member of his audience that Rubio was a pussy - I thought that meant cowardy-cat but in America it means the female organ of generation. I, like that chaste Mormon Mitt Romney, have not forgiven Donald Trump for making a joke about a TV presenter's menstrual blood and, worse, denying the clear meaning of his joke. Though at least it made him look like a boor not a klutz, which is how Rubio looked, after making a very contrived 'joke' about the size of Trump's penis.

When I was growing up in the 1970s everything seemed so dull, everything but especially politics. This is because it was - the 1960s and the 1970s were the dullest period in history. From 1980 Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were on the scene, patriotism, money and class were back and things became more and more interesting. Now it is one miniseries after another, beginning with OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinsky and never stopping.  The 2016 election is perhaps the bizarrest since September 11th. Even the hanging chads are less bizarre. As Mark Twain said:
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”


  1. As an American I must say, it does mean cowardly-cat as you put it. Yes it also has the other meaning but in casual use it frequently means timid person. It is very common in common rough speech.

  2. It is fine for Donald Trump to throw around words like "pussy" and "schlong" as a private citizen. It is not very presidential, though. As someone who believes in protocol and appearances, surely you understand that.

    1. For once I completely agree with you. I don't mind 'pussy' as I explained, because I am English, and don't know 'schlong' for the same reason but jokes about menstruation etc are repellent and most unbecoming in a head of state, even of a republic. Nor do I at all like his enthusiasm for torture.

      Lord Whitelaw, as he then wasn't, said when Robert Runcie was made Archbishop that because he had been a tank commander in the war 'You know he has said f-k'.

      I imagine Runcie was the second Archbishop of Canterbury to have killed a man, after George Archer who did so by accident, while hunting. A bolt from his cross-bow aimed at a deer happened to strike one of the keepers, who died. His enemies maintained that the fatal issue of this accident disqualified him for his office, and argued that, though the homicide was involuntary, the sport of hunting which had led to it was one in which no clerical person could lawfully indulge. The King had to refer the matter to a commission of ten, though he said that "an angel might have miscarried after this sort." The commission was equally divided, and the King gave a casting vote in the Archbishop's favour.

      What halcyon days the 1980s now seem when Prime Ministers appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury and clergymen were always men not women.