Words

I have a fascination with words, particularly where they come from. The English language has a long and interesting history, constantly in flux through the ages. The English language that is used these days has little in common with the proper English terms used in England over 200 years ago. We take on variables from other languages, and have built the English language into what it is today. English language definitely didn’t start of as English, or anything that we would understand in the 21st century.

I also have a fascination for weird words and swear words. It intrigues me how something so expressive and as basic as the f-word came to be. It’s origins remain reasonably obscure, but some say that the word started as an acronym. The story goes that in England, the crime of rape was ‘Forced Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ and part of the punishment for that particular crime was that an abbreviation of the crime would be branded on the perpetrator’s head. The rest is history, so they say. It’s amazing what I can find on the Internet when I look hard enough.

And what about the c-word? It’s bandied about now so much these days it’s even got a mention in the dictionary. According to my Internet resources, there could be many origins for this now famous expletive – one from an old Germanic word ‘kunton.’  A rather amusing history to this word, if you are so inclined to go there, is in the English middle ages, where both Oxford and London boasted districts called ‘Gropecunte Lane’ in reference to some of the ladies that worked there. The names have been changed, of course, and have faded into obscurity, although the Bank of England is now located smack bang in the old London district. Makes you wonder eh?

I’ve enjoyed the stories of some of the origins of the so-called acronym SHIT. Once again, the origins of this word are obscure and it is likely to have been derived from an old English word ‘scite’, which morphed into ‘schitte.’ I rather like the historical story, which is entirely believable and, if you weren’t involved in it at the time, amusing. The story begins back in the olden days (again), when everything was transported by ship. Manure was often transported in this way. When packed below deck on board dry, it was fine. Once inevitably affected by seawater when packed low, it fermented and produce a by-product – methane. There was enough methane build up below decks to produce quite a sizeable blast if some hapless soul went below with anything resembling a naked flame, as they did back then so that they could see. It was said that several ships were destroyed before the penny dropped. After that, manure was stamped S.H.I.T. –  ‘Ship High In Transit’ – to avoid the ravages of bottom-deck seawater and, therefore, remain dry. Heady stuff indeed, literally. And a much better story. My husband, a seaman, swears by it.

What about ‘crap?’ – as if I hadn’t had enough of bodily functions for a while. The word has links to the middle-English ‘chaff,’ and can mean a lot of different things nowadays in different languages. In America ‘crap’ is an obsolete term for money, the origin of the term ‘craps game’ perhaps. The term ‘crapulence’ comes from the Latin meaning of ‘being drunk.’ Go figure. I rather like the other story, which is entirely plausible, about a Victorian plumber named Thomas Crapper who set himself up as a sanitary engineer in the 1800s. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not invent the world’s first flushing toilet, but he promoted toilets to no end by extolling the idea of sanitary flushing in his business. Imagine that! Makes me kind of glad that I have a rather normal surname.

I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea. Language is a complex issue, that’s for sure, but there’s definitely some humour in it, and quirkiness if you care to look.

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