Monday, September 14, 2015

Roger F and the History of Swearing

When Deadwood was a big hit on television, acquaintances sometimes asked me if people really talked like that on the nineteenth-century frontier. I always said, we have no idea. We simply have no decent records of how ordinary people talked before the twentieth century. We do know that written and spoken language were different because sometimes people would use one word in print while broadly hinting that another word was intended. (E.g., the famous line that the Vice Presidency is not worth a bucket of warm spit.) But how much people swore, and in what contexts, is all but unknowable.

Here, though, is a nice example from the fourteenth century:
Paul Booth, a historian at Keele University in England, found three examples dating from 1310 and 1311 of a man known in legal documents as Roger Fuckebythenavel.

Booth said he believes Roger was not the bearer of a very unfortunate family name, but rather it was given to him derogatorily.

"This surname is presumably a nickname," Booth told "I suggest it could either mean an actual attempt at copulation by an inexperienced youth, later reported by a rejected girlfriend, or an equivalent of the word ‘dimwit,’ i.e., a man who might think that that was the correct way to go about it."
I predict that Roger will soon have one of the most famous names in English history.

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