Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | April 9, 2014

History of Profanity

This post originally appeared on my blog of literary history and words, which has become moribund.  There are some great comments on the original post, which is here.

 

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a few weeks now. At first, it hit me that all the terms: cursing, swearing, profanity, are somehow deficient. Cursing, in the sense of wishing someone harm, or damning them to hell, and the like, has become pretty mainstream in the 21st century.  There are still people who do not like it, but most people are more comfortable saying “damn” than the notorious f-word.  My husband has an Irish friend who would easily say that it was “pissing down rain,” but would never in his life say “goddamn.” My Irish-American father would never say either, at least in my hearing. In stark contrast, during the Hundred Years War, the French called the English soldiers “goddams,” because they heard it so often from them.

Swearing also does not mean “bad” words, but swearing oaths as we do when we testify at a trial or join the army or get married. Swearing is in the background of expressions like the British “bloody,” which began as “sblood,” from swearing oaths on “God’s blood,” or “swounds,” on “God’s wounds.” “Swounds“ is now only seen now in centuries-old novels set in earlier centuries yet. To my knowledge, only a small number of religious sects, like the Amish, refuse to swear any oaths, no matter what the circumstances. It seems that swearing is pretty normal for most 21st century people as well.

Profanity is an interesting term.  It comes from the philosophical split of the sacred and the profane, the holy and the human. To profane something is to make something which is holy into something human, to bring sacred things to the level of human existence, the normal, the everyday. In the twentieth century, Canadian French had the only “bad” words that were truly profanity, in that they were religious terms used in instances of anger or frustration. “Hostie” and “tabernacle” are the words for the Roman Catholic Eucharist wafer and the large receptacle where consecrated wafers were stored on the altar, respectively. However, what most of us consider profanity has nothing to do with the holy and much more to do with human sexual and other biological functions.

Also, many of our “bad” words in 21st century English are Anglo-Saxon. All right, I’m a nerd and have studied far too many medieval languages. However, I have to stifle a laugh whenever anyone says, “Pardon my French.” Why would I pardon your French, when the word you belted out is Anglo-Saxon, and ironically, was made into a “bad” word by the very French you are blaming? In 1066, the Norman French who conquered England decided to marginalize the prior occupants of the island by recasting them as barbarians who could not even speak correctly. A former colleague, with whom I taught medieval legal history, used to say that the words used by the people who tended the animals were different from those used by the people who ate the animals. Look at “sheep” versus “mutton,” which comes from the Middle French mouton. The French terms became a sign of more polish, more culture, than the Anglo-Saxon terms.

This juxtaposition runs through all of our language, not just the “bad” words. Consider: “keep” versus “maintain,” “get” versus “obtain.” The feel of the words is so different, or at least the Norman French campaign to make us see the French as more refined succeeded, didn’t it? Is it any wonder that all of the “bad” words that cause a sophomoric giggle amongst 12-year-olds are Anglo-Saxon: “fart”, “ass,” “tits,” and the rest (which I leave to your imagination as this is not an 18-and-older blog)? I draw odd looks when I apologize for my Anglo-Saxon, but most of my friends know I am just being a pedant.

I love the history of language, and the history of rude words is even more fascinating. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. I’d love your thoughts and comments.

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | April 4, 2014

Great Dane cuddles with baby

Although most of the dog videos I post elicit a laugh, this is more of an “Awwww.”

 

EM

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | March 30, 2014

Pride, Perfectionism and Anger—Confessions of a Recovering Jerk

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell:

Since there doesn’t seem to be a twelve-step program yet, I will step forward to admit that much of Kristen’s post hit very close to home for me. Good afternoon. My name is Elizabeth, and I am a perfectionist jerk.

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb's Blog:

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

I am one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable. But I know that all of us struggle and fail and fall and often what keeps us pressing is to know others have been a mess (or still are one). It’s why I’ve branded everything I do under We Are Not Alone.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are much rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of…

View original 2,511 more words

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | March 23, 2014

Funny dog video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_QEeofvBNY

The extended winter makes it even more necessary to have some laughs. Enjoy!

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | February 26, 2014

BOAW The most beautiful woman I ever met

Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hair

This year I am taking part in August McLaughlin‘s Beauty of A Woman BlogFest.  She will list links to all of the blogs participating in the fest on her blog. Stop by for fun, inspiration, laughs and more. You may also win one of two $50 gift cards, so go on over—after you’ve read this post.

Among her topics, August suggested the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met.  I met that woman, whom I will call Kathryn, when I was a sophomore in college, at a small women’s college in the South.  I had gone to college a year early, and felt a bit like a misfit, so when I noticed Kathryn sitting alone in the dining hall, I asked if I could sit with her.  When Kathryn looked up at me, I realized in part why others were avoiding her. Her face was oddly misshapen, with a very small jaw, and her hands were knotted as though arthritic.  Although several women stared covertly at her, no one was obvious, and all were well-mannered enough not to say anything mean to her.  However, it was clear from the space everyone left around her that they were uncomfortable.  While I noticed this difference about Kathryn, I am drawn to people’s eyes.  Her eyes were clear and beautiful.  My mother always said the eyes were windows to the soul, and that old canard was true in Kathryn’s case.  There were depths of pain and wisdom in them, but her wit and kindness also shone through them, pure and blue as the sky after a snowstorm.

Kathryn smiled and invited me to sit at the table.  I learned that she was several years younger than most freshman, which created a further bond between us.  Intelligent and quick-witted, she seemed to ignore the combined avoidances and sideways glances of the women around us.  We found several areas of common interest and similar backgrounds during that meal and many others that followed. We came to be friends, although several of my other friends continued to avoid her.  There was always a space around her, a sort of benign neglect zone that moved with her.  Despite this reaction, Kathryn never felt anyone was unkind, saying she realized how different she looked and it was normal for people to shy away from her.

After a few weeks, she told me that she suffered from Progeria, which is a rare, rapid-aging disease.  Most people with the disease do not live beyond their teens, which is why she had gone to college early.  When I replied that I couldn’t imagine bothering with college in her case, she shrugged and said she had nothing better to do. In the time I knew her, she never complained about her pain, never felt sorry for herself, never felt slighted.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Kathryn concentrated on doing whatever she could for her small group of friends.  At the end of that year,  an acquaintance asked me in private how I could stand to look at her.  I was stunned, because I had truly forgotten Kathryn didn’t look like the rest of the freshmen. I saw Kathryn, not what her disease had done to her. She  was the kindest soul I ever met, and a far better person than I could ever be.  She taught me volumes about self-confidence, acceptance, and striving for one’s goals.  She was hands down the most beautiful woman I have ever met.

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | February 15, 2014

Song for February

In honor of the 20+ inches of snow in my front yard, here is Vivaldi’s Winter.  I love the music, and the pictures are quite nice as well.

I hope everyone stays safe and warm!

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | January 20, 2014

Song for the New Year

Yes, I know we are 2/3rds through January.  I am only beginning to fight free of the monochrome world, so forgive my lateness. I have so many favorite lines in this Kelly Clarkson song, but I suppose the best lines are “Here’s to the damned, the lost, and forgotten / Hard to get high when you’re living on the bottom / Misfits living in a world on fire.”

Do you ever feel like a misfit?  Or do you always feel like one?  Here’s to the people like us!

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | December 6, 2013

Dreams from the trash

Although this ad is to encourage recycling, I started listening to the words. It transfixed me.  My family wondered why I was recording a recycling ad.  But listen with me: “They told me I was a piece of  trash and that is all I would ever be. . . a bottle couldn’t see the ocean . . . give up and go back to the dumpster.”

There are people told this every day.  I was one of them.  Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not important enough to have dreams. Dumb and ugly should know its place and stay there.  I refused, in little ways at first, but louder and bolder as I grew up.

It took years for me to dream, and more to feel I deserved to dream, but, much like that little plastic bottle, I have gotten there.

I wonder if the creators of the ad had any thought of deeper layers in  the words–of talking about people as well as plastic.  Life is recycling, after all, changing, growing, re-inventing oneself.

Am I  odd  alone in seeing this ad and thinking of all the “disposable” people in the world? Is it just my childhood memories coloring my vision?

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | November 30, 2013

Gratitude for those far from me

Yesterday, I wrote a gratitude post, to which this is a companion.

My aunt was an early positive influence in my life, when so much around me was negativity and despair.  I still miss her, although she passed away over twenty years ago.  She was the salt of the earth, as some describe that sort of honest, grounded, but very giving person.  She helped to bring me out of my snobbishness about education, showing me that common sense and a good heart were often more important in navigating daily life. I thought of her as a grandmother, although in many ways, she was more a mother to me than my own mother. She taught me various kinds of needlework, wheedling the “fairy child” out of her hiding place to bask in her attention. I didn’t realize at the time, but she loved me, and in so doing, countered much of the negativity I felt about myself.

Although my mother still lives, she is absent from me. Her lifelong depression, which made her distant from me when I was small, has been subsumed into the raging bitterness that rules her now that she is in severe dementia.  I regret that I didn’t listen more to her lessons on gardening, botanical names, and the occasional herbal remedy she remembered from her grandmother.  That part of her brain, which she shared with me far too seldom when I was a child, is locked away.  It is there in the frail, wasted body burning with anger, only speaking when there are words formed as weapons to shred the last remaining positive memories I have of her, but I can no longer find the path to it.

Despite present reality, I treasure the knowledge I gained from my mother, the fragile bridge that she managed to forge with me through her depression to pass on something of value to her. When I was about four, she gave me my own small garden, where I insisted I plant a piece of rosebush accidentally torn from a wild rose.  My mother doubted that it would survive, but she helped me prepare the ground and watched me thrust the rosebush into the dirt, watering and watching. Despite the odds, that rosebush flourished, growing over ten feet up the side of a nearby tree, festooned with wild roses every summer. I feel a kinship with that rose, and I appreciate my mother letting me try, even while she was convinced I would fail.

Thanksgiving is a time to cherish those around us, but also to remember those who had an impact on us, in many ways making us who we are.  Who are you thankful for, and why?

Posted by: Elizabeth Anne Mitchell | November 28, 2013

Gratitude for unseen blessings

Thanksgiving is a time I try to express my gratitude for my family, friends, and life.  I was struck by Kristen Lamb’s gratitude post because she concentrates on the blessings revealed by inconveniences.  One example, among many, is to see the blessing in washing the dog blankets because she has a dog for a companion.

Once I learned how to look at several incidents this fall, I see they are unseen blessings. I am grateful for the post-surgical complication that landed me in the ICU, because I no longer take a day, or an hour, or even a minute, for granted.

I am grateful for only having the use of one hand, because I know that it is temporary, and it has made me far more mindful of the things that I do. I often write by hand, with a fountain pen in a notebook, enjoying the process of translating the words to the motion of my hand.

I am grateful for the inflated grocery bill, because my sons are home with us this fall, before going to college in the spring.  I treasure their stopping here on the cusp of their adulthood.

I am grateful for my husband who needs so much more “together” time than I do, because he thinks I am pretty cool, even though especially because I am nerdy.

I am grateful for my sister who cannot figure out the time difference with New York and calls in the middle of dinner, because she calls and cares.

I am grateful for my friends, who dig me out of my hermit self, and make me do things with them that I enjoy, but would never do alone.

I am grateful for my dog who digs up the yard, because she knows when I am sad or feeling ill, and will not leave my side.

Thank you to all of you.  I am grateful to know you, have you as friends and family, and spend time with you.

 

 

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