Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Not Worth a Fart


I did say that out loud, didn't I?
I'll have you know that this term for the anal and audible escape of wind was Standard English from the 13th century.
Not until the 18th did its robust aroma offend delicate sensibilities and the word become classified as a vulgarism.
I have this on the authority of The Penguin Dictionary of Historical Slang.
Dug the book out yesterday when I saw someone object to the use of "Ho!" as an exclaimation in a story set in the late 12th century. They said it wasn't used until the 14th or 15th.
Really?
I find that anal.
Understandable, but anal.
One shouldn't be too quick to adduce or claim first use of a colloquial form of speech from the earliest discovered record.
One should bear in mind that actual use may predate the written record by many, many years.
Especially when the usual evidence offered pertains to English usage and the language in question must be Norman French. And by a character , by virtue of his occupation, in contact with other languages and dialects.
To belabor the point, I imagine Grog probably said "Ho!" back in his neolithic cave - when he wasn't saying "Huh?" and "Ugh!"

You've heard comic transpositions such as "one swell foop" and a "turd of hurtles", of course. Comedians have made whole gut-gasping, hysterical skits based on such.
The Dictionary of Historical Slang provides a preface of technical terms and I discovered that this transposition actually has a name. It's called "Marrowskying"(?!), developed in the mid eighteen hundreds by students of London University.
Another specific type of slang is attributed to students at Rugby School at Oxford. The original word is morphed and "-er" added, ie. "the Radcliffe Camera" becomes "the Radder". And I wonder if this is the origin of slang such as "bonkers," "starkers" and "nutters."
It's such a neat book.
My vocabulary of totally purient expressions - somewhat enhanced by reading Yahoo message boards - has further increased a hundred fold.
Did you know that the expression "bitch party" is about 150 years old?
And considering the multitude of slang terms listed for the female...um..."center" ( to use a word popular in romance novels right now) I'd suggest that those writers of romance and erotica bemoaning the lack of fresh descriptions should have a copy of this resource at hand.

38 comments:

Sandra Ruttan said...

C'mon Bernita - do a whole post in this slang and let us have a crack at figuring it out!

Bernita said...

That's a crack the monica!You think that an entire post on cracking Judy's tea-cup wouldn't be a crack-brained thing for a word crack who's inclined to be crack-jawed to crack a whid?
I'm afraid I'd crack the bell.

Savannah Jordan said...

Sorry... but this HAS to be said after that reply, Bernita... CRACK addict!! :P

Seriously, though, where'd you get that dictionary?? I want one.

Bernita said...

Savannah, I got it at a yard sale!
It's by Eric Partridge, published by Penguin. I have a 1972 abridged(by Jecqueline Simpson) edition.

Rick said...

I confess that on first reading this I took "Ho!" as a very recent form of the sturdy old English word for the oldest profession - and using that form in a 12th c. setting might indeed be a bit of a stretch.

As for farts, the best story I know is about the hapless lord who went into self-exile for seven years after tooting while bowing to Elizabeth I. When he at last returned to court, Bess told him "I had quite forgot the Fart."

H.S. Kinn said...

Oh my. I'm gonna have to get my hands on a copy of that!

Bernita said...

Ho!
Nice anecdote!
Elizabethan wit.
Not the most advantageous nic for a courtier to acquire, is it?

Carla said...

I just thought 'Ho' was an exclamation, like 'Oh' or 'Ah' or any number of other half-word-half-grunts. It wouldn't bother me to see it used in any era.

I tend to be relaxed about slang in dialogue anyway. I want to get the feel of the character, so if someone in the 12th-C is chatting in a slightly irreverent way about the local lord I'd be quite happy to have them say 'nob', even though the actual word 'nob' didn't come in until the Regency period. A more formal word like 'lord' doesn't have the same impertinent connotation so it wouldn't tell me about the character's attitude and style of speaking. Even if the author had managed to find the correct 12th-C equivalent I wouldn't recognise it, so I'd rather they just used the modern slang term. Always provided that the modern slang doesn't rely on something that hadn't been invented yet (e.g. 'nob' is okay for me because it sounds like it's a shortened version of 'noble', which is a concept that was around in 12th-C society, but 'smoking gun' wouldn't be because 'gun' is a concept that wasn't around). Similarly, if someone was telling a story in a society that didn't have a class structure, 'nob' wouldn't work for me because it depends on the concept of 'noble'. 'Ho' doesn't rely on any particular concept so I don't mind seeing it in any setting.

I think the Queen Bess anecdote is going to figure in the last episode of 'Virgin Queen', from the BBC's blurb. Can someone in the US who's already seen it confirm or deny that?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hey, Bernita...does it give you the origin of the word...piss.

ROFLOL...don't fall on the floor! I'm serious. See if it's in your book and I'll come back at tell you later....it's a real trip.

Bernita said...

How nice to see you, H.S!
You will enjoy it.

Bernita said...

Be interesting if I find the 12c. equivalent, we might recognize it after all.

Ric said...

Sometimes I'm not sure how I get started in the morning without the thought provoking bits that Bernita comes up with.

Thankfully, I write in the present and language doesn't change much in a short time. However, I do have a book out that starts in 1968 - and an agent told me I needed to do more research if I was going to market it as an historical.

Rick said...

Carla - I think the fart episode (his return, not the fart itself) does appear in "Virgin Queen," but I won't swear to it.

Bernita said...

Something like a brass trumpet, Ric?
Thank you.
Shocking thought that 1968 is considered an historical era...

Dennie McDonald said...

You know - I have always said that my view of the world is through my kids eyes - the oldest is in 5th grade - so I get the giggles when I hear words that is said to mean one thing and means another (to me) - My FIL's name is Richard and when his momma (and the only one that does) calls him Dick - I can't help but giggle!

Erik Ivan James said...

If I remember correctly, Og farted in his cave because electricity and the fan hadn't been invented yet. Og used them to circulate the air.

Bernita said...

Why yes, Bonnie.It do.
It says late Middle English. It was Standard English but declined into a vulgarism around 1760. Believed to derive from Old French ( pisser) and posibly from Vulgar Latin(pissiare). Considered echoic, imitative or onomatopoeic.
Section includes some colorful expressions such as:
"So drunk he opened his shirt to piss" - meaning blind drunk
"piss-a-bed" - a dandelion(virtue as a diretic)
"to piss blood" -strain or effort.
" piss down one's back" - to flatter.
"piss-fire" - a blusterer.
"piss- maker" - a great drinker.
Etc.

Erik - you lost me there.

Dennie, naughty of you.How does he feel about it?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Very good!...To do one better...around 1300...and it's place of being the most widely used...~drum roll please~...the Bible!

That's right...if you have a King James Version (not a New King James) but the regular one...open to 2Kings 18:27 or Isaiah 36:12...and to go one further...pissith (isn't that so English)...go to 1Samuel 25:22,34: 1Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21 or 2Kings 9:8!

And that's the Bible lesson for the day! LOL

Erik Ivan James said...

Bernita, it was a weak attempt at a little humor back to selected parts of the post. Musta been real weak.

M. G. Tarquini said...

My kids use the word 'fart' all the time. Should I be concerned?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Only if they're calling you an old fart MG!

(Crack addict. Tee hee hee)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sister Bonnie.
Chaucer used it.

Ah ~light bulb~ got you Erik. Maybe you should a Prachett type thing about him.

Don't know, Mindy, what do you feed them?

C'mon, Sandra, you're supposed to be figuring out the cracks, not falling through them.

Gabriele C. said...

My Romans are educated people. They swear in Latin. :-)

The German version of fart - Furz - has undergone the same development from normal to pejorative, which represents a change in manners.

Luther asked his dinner companions, "why don't you burp and fart, didn't you like the food?" (in nice Old fashioned German: warum rülpset und furzet Ihr nit, hat Ewch das Eszen nit geschmecket?)

In the 18th century, it was bad manners to comment on the quality of a dinner in that way.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yes, Chaucer...now him, I was fond of in high school literature!

Dennie McDonald said...

How does he feel... considering one of the last times we were together - he jokingly - yeah right - told me I had a fat a@# - I figure he deserves what he gets - and Dick is right!

Bernita said...

I'd call that sweet justice then, Dennie.

The Age of Refinement, Gabriele!

Kirsten said...

Re: upper class gas, I read once that Princess Di claimed the royals kept Corgis so they could blame their farts on them.

Bernita said...

When someone makes a rose in my house, I blame my husband - not Calvin the Corgi.

Kirsten said...

You have a Corgi??? I knew there was a reason I liked you!!! lol

Pembroke or Cardigan?

Kirsten said...

I mean, I knew there was a reason I liked you over & above your intelligence & charm!!! LOL

Bernita said...

Ummm..er...yes, thank you , Kirsten.
I have no idea. He's a humane society reject, along with our other dog, a German Shepherd.
He's mostly Corgi, in any event. And probably mostly Cardigan. He is champagne blond.

R.J. Baker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nessili said...

so then, what's the difference between a spoonerism and a marrowskyism?

"makes a rose"?! LOL I don't think I've ever heard that phrase used for that. We use "I ate a skunk." Or my grandpa's "barking spiders."

Bernita said...

No difference, as far as I can see, Nessili.I should have mentioned that. Apparently what he is labelling is a localized, semi-exclusive use.

"Made a rose" is ...um...silent - though courtesy demands notification to warn of possible asphyxia.
A "ferple" is a delicate - although musicical - riff.
A "fart" is a full-blown, completely unabashed toot in our house - Family language/jargon.

ali said...

Another specific type of slang is attributed to students at Rugby School at Oxford

If you mean from Rugby - that's still very common round here. Daventry becomes Davvers, Rugby becomes Rugger (also used as slang for the game), MacDonalds becomes Maccers, and so on.

Gabriele - is rulpset (don't know how to do the little dots) German for burp? I love that! It's a brilliant word :).

Bernita said...

I gather so, Ali, or so he claims.I should have said "from."
It's one that obviously still survives.
I agree it's a great "sound" word.

answer-man said...

Hi, enjoyed your blog and introducing ourselves to the community. We have a nice blog survey we are sharing and has great interest. **www.BibleMediaDvd.Com** Drop on by it's an interesting article. Have a great day. I saved your blog hope you don't mind.

Rick J said...

I have been following a site now for almost 2 years and I have found it to be both reliable and profitable. They post daily and their stock trades have been beating
the indexes easily.

Take a look at Wallstreetwinnersonline.com

RickJ