So many are so incensed by the increased policing of the English language that they often rally round those who delight in calling a spade a spade for all the wrong reasons. Whether Donald Trump, Jeremy Clarkson or Tyson Fury, it’s a measure of how oversensitive the arbiters of what can and can’t be said in public have become that some react to the latest linguistic directive by cheering on a professional gobshite whose relish in causing offence has no point beyond the causing of offence. One would struggle to find the poetic vitriol in a column by, say, Kelvin McKenzie that was once the trademark of Ian Nairn, the late great architectural critic who offended all the right people with eloquence and wit because his anger came from the heart and was motivated by a deep desire to make the world a better place rather than craving a self-promoting platform to point a gesticulating finger.
It was announced the other day that Salford Council plan to introduce on-the-spot fines for anyone caught using ‘foul and abusive language’ in the area of Salford Quays, a slick and soulless neighbourhood that contains luxury apartment blocks as well as the BBC’s very own ‘Northern Powerhouse’, Mediocre City UK. Liberty have written to Salford Council to clarify what they would constitute as foul and abusive, including inquiring if a foul and abusive word being uttered would count as a criminal offence if there was nobody else present to hear it. Should someone bang their shin on an inanimate object whilst passing through the Quays, unleashing a simple expletive to verbally articulate pain when reciting a Shakespeare soliloquy just won’t do, have they then broken the law?
Salford Council claims this monitoring of ‘speech crime’ is a response to complaints from residents of the Quays regarding antisocial behaviour. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Salford Quays does not consist of sheltered housing for the elderly, the demographic within society that traditionally have a problem with fruity vocabularies. Besides, Salford Council’s own account of these complaints mentions uprooting wheelie bins from their prominent and aesthetically appealing positions on the pavement; did whoever threw the bins into the Manchester Ship Canal issue a series of rude words as they did so? F*** knows. A Public Space Protection Order has been utilised in order to enforce this unenforceable law, and calling Salford Quays a public space is something of a misnomer if the public are to be policed in such a manner. At least be honest and refer to it as a private space – or perhaps a ‘safe space’, those newfangled wombs specially designed for the most easily offended group of the moment, university students, to flee to when their delicate little sensibilities are thrown into turmoil as someone says something contradictory to their manual of what is and isn’t acceptable.
The most vocal monitors of the English language have made it clear they won’t tolerate half of the words in the dictionary over the last few months, censoring and hectoring veteran advocates of free speech such as Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell and issuing evermore ludicrous decrees that we disobey at our peril. Swearing doesn’t seem to have come under the radar of the Stepford Students yet, though I suspect those words that are perceived as insulting to the anatomy of the shrinking violet probably have – cunt, fanny, twat etc. I would imagine bollocks, knackers, dickhead, knobhead, wanker et al are probably still acceptable in that they refer to the naughty bits of men, and these naughty bits can of course constitute a dangerous arsenal if not belittled by insults.
It goes without saying that someone whose every other word is fuck or fucking can quickly become tedious, not so much by using those particular words but just by the endless repetition of any words; I find those who pepper their sentences with ‘like’ or ‘y’know’ as irritating as anyone who substitutes these words with profanities. However, there are certain social situations in which constant recourse to swearing suggests a lack of general etiquette. I wouldn’t, for example, reply to an old lady making an innocent inquiry in a supermarket queue by showering her in a stream of four-letter words, nor would I adopt the tactics of the infuriatingly oblivious self-centred tosser conducting a loud sweary conversation on his mobile in the same environment, treating his local branch of Sainsbury’s as though it were a taproom. And there’s nothing worse than a parent effing and blinding at their small children as he or she waits impatiently to buy their scratch-card. I don’t swear in front of my mother or my nine-year-old niece because I’m conscious they’re not the right audience; but with friends, it’s different. Perhaps because I’m not in love with the sound of my own voice, I doubt I’d offend any residents of Salford Quays, anyway, on account of speaking at a level intended solely for the ears of the person I’m speaking to.
This week, Donald Trump marked his Super Tuesday success by making penis jokes during a live televised debate with one of his Republican rivals; yes, it was just like Kennedy and Nixon all over again. One feels the only way the brakes could be applied to the Trump juggernaut would be if he were caught saying ‘nigger’ within range of a TV microphone. Even then, however, there would still be a large section of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ American public applauding his perceived rejection of PC politeness by not being afraid to speak his mind.
And that in a way is the danger of policing language to such an extreme that nobody seems to know what is or isn’t acceptable to say in public; more and more become weary of these endless rewritings of verbal intercourse and many instinctively flock to those who deliberately flout the new rules, finding them a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, these tend not to be fiercely intelligent individuals such as the much-missed Christopher Hitchens, who would support their spurning of speech crime enforcers with a superlative counter-argument that utterly trashes the agents of serial censorship, but those who have nothing else in their armoury other than a playground insult. And my dick’s bigger than yours.
© The Editor