A ruddy good read. Filthy English; The how why and what of everyday swearing by Peter Silverton. Review.


I was gifted this book for my Christmas a few years ago and it has been my water closet reading of choice ever since. 1,000 or so days of snatched consumption later and I’m ready to share with you how colossal an achievement the writing of this essential book is for anyone who has any curiosity at all in the use and etymology of language.

Even (especially) foul language.

1,000 or so days of it enduring twice, thrice daily dramatic changes in the humidity of its environment, thanks to our ferociously hot shower, has rendered it a somewhat punch drunk shadow of its former self; limp, wrinkled and long parted from its spine; it has a heroic feel about it.

I think that is appropriate.

Why so good? A book about swearing?

Well, for a start, and before you think I’m just courting controversy, this is not a book that “gies you your cheapies” as we used to say as youngsters (cheapies being cheap thrills). Not very much of it is funny, none of it is gratuitous even though the word cunt (and I will not resort to **** as that would be to entirely undermine its authority) is used perhaps 300 times, maybe more. ‘Fuck’ probably chalks up triple that word count and of course we have many, many more gloriously lewd and blushingly frank curses.

Frankly, it’s a fuckfest.

Not only that, but we learn how to swear in every language from Romanian to Mongolian and pretty much everywhere in between.

What’s the point you may very well ask?

Well, in turns it’s a history lesson, an etymological travelogue like none other I’ve experienced, a science (biological) primer and a visceral insight into cultural expression.

That might still leave you asking yourself so what? But it’s also a darned well-written and authoritative tome and endlessly fascinating and revealing.

Everyone should know their arse from their asswipe and this is the place to discover it.

You’ll fucking love it.

Swearing. Just how bad is it?

I suppose this is a pet subject of mine.

So, I was delighted to stumble upon the Guardian’s POV.


The Guardian style guide offers the following advice:

We are more liberal than any other newspapers, using language that our competitors would not. But even some readers who agree with Lenny Bruce that “take away the right to say fuck and you take away the right to say fuck the government” might feel that we sometimes use such words unnecessarily.
The editor’s guidelines are as follows:

  • First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend.
  • Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.
  • Third, the stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it.
  • Finally, never use asterisks, which are just a cop-out.

Now that last point is absolutely on the money and should be standard practice in the Western world.

more bollocks from the Sunday mail

Last week I shared a great post from Phil Adams about the moronic nature of swearing censorship in our rubbish newspapers.

Today I picked up the Sunday Mail to see how much they’d insult their readers’ intelligence.  They did well…

A real beauty; and in red too.

So, hands up if you were unable to work out that Walter Smith was pissed off?  If they didn’t want to say “pissed off” why not try something like, say, “furious”.

Now bastards, I’ll grant you, is a little stronger, and yet we get a double whammy on it, “complete bastards” and “horrible bastards” but I don’t think you’ll find the word bastard *******ed out in the OED.

This is a peach.  It might be a pain in the arse to play against Hamilton Accies when they are fighting relegation but since when did that constitute swearing?  Come on.

I admit it.  This one works.  It has totally baffled me.  Was he calling her a bastard?  Odd.  Or a Bitch and it’s an ******* typo.  Should it have been b**** not b******?

Maybe it’s b******, sorry, bonkers, after all some people take offence at words like that.  Buggers?  Ballbag?   Be-itch (like in America)?  Boring?  That would offend me.  Broody?  Bloodys?

No, I’ve got it, it was barbara, and she took offence at the missing capitalisation.

Oh well.  Might come back to this one next week.

In between times answers on a postcard as to what Mr McGuire really did report.

I’m intrigued.


I am indebted to my friend Phil Adams for making me think about this subject, of which my regular readers will know I am very fond.  This morning he wrote a brilliant and highly amusing post on his excellent blog, Sawdust.  It’s about an issue that makes my blood boil.  The lame-assed censorship of swearing, in the media.

Take this example from last month’s Times (One of the worst offenders as it happens)…

“Student rioters were incensed as they charged on Whitehall.  Said one, ‘the f***ing coalition are a bunch of c***s.’ ”

OK, I actually made that up but it’s a typical sentence you might read any day in any quality newspaper; except the Guardian who would have literally reported the quote.

Do they think we are complete idiots, that we can’t work out what letters the asterisks replace.

In his post Adams beautifully argues that this is in fact a form of reverse psychology, it’s a stopper, because it actually brings MORE attention to the swearword.  You re-read it, maybe even saying “fucking” out loud and if you’re a reader of the Daily Mail or Express you might even write in outrage to the editor.

Why not paraphrase the quote or leave it out altogether if swearing is such a challenge to your sensitivities?

And while I’m on it why does the Sun think it’s OK to show a picture of a topless girl next to a paragraph (headline even)  that reads “It’s all a load of b*ll*cks.”?  Which is most offensive to the greater number of people?   I mean, Jesus Christ, Rodney and Dell Boy said bollocks repeatedly on prime time TV for years, so I’m pretty sure it’s not even a swear word.  OK it’s a step up from my Grandmother’s old favourite: Ruddy.   But I have seen Bollocks b*ll*cked up  many times in the red tops.

This is one of my all time favourite poems which elucidates my point to perfection.

This was the moment that changed the history of swearing on TV.  I mean it’s hilarious.  The juxtaposition of posh old Bill Grundy and the trying oh so hard Sex Pistols…

It’s all captured beautifully in this book I received for Christmas.  I read it whenever I sit on the sh*tter.

For those of you with a nervous disposition the title of the book isn

Let’s return to the Guardian; where others write *rse (I kid you not) or trail Tarantino’s movie as Inglorious B******’s the Guardian will happily go for the full  Bhuna.  No one is afraid of the swearie police at the  Guardian and that’s one of the reasons I love it so.  Don’t like it?  Don’t buy it.  Just like you are, or aren’t, reading this post this far.

So, that’s that off my chest.  I can go and make the f****g breakfast now.