Will Someone Please Think of the English Language?
AS you may or may not have heard, Aldi in Australia has taken copies of Roald Dahl’s book Revolting Rhymes off their shelves. Why? Because of complaints made against some of the language used within.
It must be awful to justify depriving children of the manic wit of one of the greatest children’s authors. Whole poems must have been dedicated to debauchery and hooliganism. Wait, it was only a word? Well, it must have been one hell of a bad word! The particularly offensive word? Slut.
Are you kidding me?
I understand that in its modern context, ‘slut’ isn’t a great word. But when Dahl wrote the poem (about Cinderella by the way) slut didn’t mean an ‘immoral or dissolute woman‘ (the dictionary definition). Instead he meant it as its now obsolete meaning, which was a dirty or slovenly woman. The poem itself was about Cinderella realising that maybe Prince Charming wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. More importantly, that he was a lovelorn, murdering nutcase.
“Poor Cindy’s heart was torn to shreds. My Prince! she thought. He chops off heads! How could I marry anyone who does that sort of thing for fun? The Prince cried, ‘Who’s this dirty slut? Off with her nut! Off with her nut!’” the rhyme goes.
But all this made me think about the deterioration of the English language. Words that held such beautiful and complex meanings have fallen by the wayside, are no longer used or their meanings have been entirely corrupted. Here is a list of some words that sound rude but may not actually be and others we really should start using again.
Slut: It used to mean a dirty, or slovenly woman and now it means an immoral or dissolute woman.
Gay: Used to mean light-hearted and carefree and was once synonymous with being jovial, cheerful, perky and effervescent. Now we just use it to mean homosexual.
Bumfiddler: Sounds rude, right? But to bumfiddle actually means to pollute or spoil something, mainly by scribbling or drawing on a document to make it invalid. Not what you thought it would mean? Jeez, get your mind out of the gutter.
Knobstick: Why of course, this was a term used for a walking stick or a truncheon. What did you thing it meant? It was also 19th century slang for a workman who broke a strike or a person hired in the place of an employee who was striking.
Peniaphobia: A fear of what? That’s right, poverty!
Slag: Now a term for an immoral woman, it used to mean stony waste material. Back in the 16th century the verb slagger also meant ‘to loiter’, ‘creep’, ‘to stumble’ or ‘to walk awkwardly’.
Mean: We all use it when describing someone as unpleasant. But it also means ‘miserly’, ‘selfish’ or ‘of inferior quality’ and a statistical average.
Nonce: Used as British slang for a sex offender, nonce actually means ‘for the present’.
Strange how words change, isn’t it? So before everyone goes rushing off condemning Roald Dahl or any book, phrase, or word, why not look them up? See their original meaning. Heaven forbid we should expand our vocabularies.
Don’t rush to judge a word, rather, judge the context in which it is used. Next time you are considering using a word in its more derogatory format, maybe think that your language deserves better than that. You’ll sound smarter when you choose to use these words in their correct context, I promise!
Photos c/o twitter.com, roalddahl.com