I cannot resist posting the following links; the second is of obvious linguistic relevance, and the first is just so damn funny I have to share it. But they are rough and knotty and deal with scandalous or salacious material. Readers of delicate sensibilities should pass over this entire entry. You have been warned.
1. A John Dolan review of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, a rehab memoir. Anyone who knows the Exile and its evil ways will not be surprised to hear that it begins “This is the worst thing I’ve ever read” and then takes off the gloves. It gets down and dirty. It may well be unfair. But I really can’t bring myself to care when it includes passages like this:
Walking on a trail outside the clinic, Frey names and capitalizes everything: “Trail,” “Tree,” “Animals.” Then he sees a lower-case “bird.” I was offended for our feathered friend. Why don’t the birds get their caps like everybody else?
But then Frey is no expert observer, as he proves in one of the funniest scenes from his nature walks, when he meets a “fat otter”: “There is an island among the rot, a large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch. There is chatter beneath the pile and a fat brown otter with a flat, armored tail climbs atop and he stares at me.”
Now, can anyone tell me what a “fat otter with a flat, armored tail” actually is? That’s right: a beaver! Now, can anyone guess what the “large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch” would be? Yes indeed: a beaver dam!
I warn you, however, that the review contains Bad Language and Worse Attitudes.
2. The second link contains almost nothing but Bad Language. It is, in fact, an immensely long and learned discussion of what must be considered (in the U.S., at any rate) the Worst Word in the English Language. (Damn, I’ve picked up James Frey’s Capital Abuse Habit.) No, not the f-word, which we hear so often only the most reclusive and old-fashioned could possibly be shocked by it, but the c-word. It is A Cultural History of C*nt (the namby-pamby asterisk being mine, not the author’s—an attempt to avoid misdirected Google hits). It begins with an etymological excursus to which, frankly, you should not pay much attention (“The ‘cu’ prefix of ‘cunnus’ has long associations with femininity…. Eric Partridge discusses the ‘quintessential femineity’ [Partridge, 1937/1961] of ‘cu’, and James McDonald explains that this word/sound, or an equivalent such as ‘ku’, ‘existed in a common Germanic language over two thousand years ago.”) and proceeds to a fascinating history of the usage of the word. Here is one of the few bits I can actually quote without resorting to more asterisks; it’s also as funny as the Frey review:
…when John Spellar MP made a speech in the House of Commons: “[he tried to say] ‘We recognise that these cuts in the defence medical services had gone too far,’ but he inserted an unwanted letter ‘n’ in the word ‘cuts’. It still made perfect sense.”
The author is Matthew Hunt (yes, it rhymes), and the piece is headed “Dissertation”; it has a long enough bibliography that it may actually be one. At any rate, enjoy it if you dare!
Credits: the first link is via No-Sword Sieve (2003-06-04, bottom), the second via Stavros. Thanks, guys!