Flirting, Swearing, and Classy Curses

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May 3, 2016 by libroshombre


A chapter immediately piqued my interest in “From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth Century Dance,” a book recommended by one of my Osher Lifelong Learning professors. Intriguingly titled “Conversation and Flirtation,” it listed the various signals young ladies transmitted using their handkerchiefs, fans, gloves, and parasols. Biting one’s glove tips, for example, meant “I wish to be rid of you very soon,” while carefully folding them meant “Get rid of your company.” Drawing them halfway onto the left hand meant “Indifference,” but leaving just the left thumb exposed meant “Do you love me?,” and turning them inside out meant “I hate you.”

Placing one’s handkerchief over the eyes implied “You are so cruel,” placing it over the right ear was “How you have changed,” and twisting it in the left hand meant, “I wish to be rid of you.” Careful with the bumbershoot! Carrying it elevated in the left hand meant “Desiring acquaintance,” but high in the other hand meant “You are too willing.” Using them as fans meant “Introduce me to your company,” and putting the handle to one’s lips meant, “Kiss me.”

            This was an era of gentler expletives in polite society. A number of softer oaths have appeared in English, like “humbug!,” “blimey!,” “God’s teeth!,” and “horsefeathers!” “Dag nabbit!,” was one of my father’s kinder expressions, and my mom’s strongest oath is “fiddlededee!” Apparently the latter’s been around since the 1400s, but, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, not in print until 1784 when Boswell quoted Samuel “Dictionary” Johnson saying “Fiddlededee, my dear.”

I prefer creative cursing, like “cork-sucking ice hole,” “son of a seacook,” or “holy Chinese breakfast.” And some offend because of their linguistic origin. A recent article titled “Inshallah is for Everyone” is a case in point. Though it literally means, “If god wills it,” the article’s point is that sometimes saying “Inshallah is the Arabic version of ‘fuggedaboudit.’ It’s similar to how the British use the word ‘brilliant’ to both praise and passive-aggressively deride everything and everyone. It transports both the speaker and the listener to a fantastical place where promises, dreams, and realistic goals are replaced by delusional hope and earnest yearning … Boy: ‘Father, will we go to Toys R Us later today?’ Father: ‘Yes. Inshallah.’ Translation: “There’s no way we’re going … I’m exhausted … Here, play with this staple remover.”

Donald Trump has few compunctions about verbally offending others. In Jonathan Green’s online article, “A Lexicographer Explains the Sneaky Agenda Behind Trump’s Dirty Mouth,” he says “While breaking linguistic taboos can indeed be a means of seriously challenging the stuffy status quo, a closer look at Trump’s use of foul language makes it clear he has other motivations … his use of vulgar language is about winning friends and influencing people, while strategically alienating others … Trump, self-appointed man of the people, is trying through his unrestrained manner of speech to position himself as ‘us,’ not ‘them.’”

Few humans have ever sworn as beautifully as Shakespeare, with lines like “Thine face is not worth sunburning,” and “You scullion! You rampallion! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!” For the record, a “rampallion” is “a mean wretch,” and “fustilarians” were “lowly persons.” To honor Shakespeare’s birth and death anniversary, I give you Aryeh Cohen-Wade’s take on Donald Trump playing Hamlet. “Listen – to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, ‘Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles – or just giving up?’ I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools. “But I say to them, ‘Have you ever thought that we don’t know – we don’t know –what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?’ Ay-yi-yi – there’s the rub!”

Bone up on your cursing at the library, where you’ll find “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing,” and other disturbing information. For if you aren’t offended by something in your public library, then the librarians aren’t successfully presenting all points of view.



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