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Victorian vulgarities and what you can do with them.
If George Bernard Shaw felt needed extra publicity he could have done worse than to swear. Whether he did it for the publicity or not we’ll never know. But audiences were horrified (and delighted) when Eliza Doolittle cried out “Not Bloody Likely”. Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady as it became on the screen) is all about language of course. There’s Henry Higgins, an eminent member of the respectable class. And Eliza, as low as low can get. And Henry has to prove that he can pass her off as a lady.
“Walk! Not bloody likely. I am going in a taxi.”
There, in one exclamation, we have Higgins' problem. You can take the flower girl out of the East End. But you can’t take the East End out of the flower girl.
When the play was first performed in 1914, the audience reportedly went very quiet. And then roared with laughter for a full minute. A few “Decency” campaigns protested over it. (We hate to think what they’d think of us) But nothing really came of it. Bloody was a bad word, but not a very bad word.
And it’s been this way for most of it’s history. During the 1700s, it was even acceptable in children’s literature. It had a spell in the first half of the 19th century, when it was a bit unspeakable. But mostly, it’s just been seen as coarse rather than truly bad. Something associated with the lower classes. The lower classes of course lacking in wherewithal to speak “properly”.
In 1888, the Oxford English Dictionary listed bloody as “constantly in the mouths of the lowest classes, but by respectable people considered a ‘horrid word’…” The same edition did not include other horrid words also in common use such as bugger, fuck or cunt.
If like us, you’re from the lower classes, you may need your vocabulary expanding. So we have done our research. We can now present you with our quick guide to Victorian vulgarities. And be warned, they are very rude!
And should you wish to share this around, you madam, you sir, are a muffin walloper! *
* A gossip
**We have been enjoying reading “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing” by Melissa Mohr; The Strange World of Victorian Slang by Patrick Chapman and 1811 Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose. All available on a well known internet shopping site, the latter being £0.00 !
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