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Navigating on the high ‘Cs’

By Tony Deyal

 The English language is getting increasingly tense and this is not restricted merely to verbs but nouns, adverbs and adjectives as well.  In fact it is past tense as Britain’s Daily Mail reports.  What the Mail shows is that the “C” Section is not only a problem in Trinidad and Tobago but is now an issue wherever the English Language is spoken, read or held in high esteem.  

On March 16, 2014, just a week ago, the Mail said, “Latest round of words added to the Oxford Dictionary includes one of the rudest in the English language.  Word — among most offensive in English language — added under ‘c’ section.” The Independent’s Adam Withnall explained that the Oxford Engligh Dictionary (OED) is updated four times a year — providing insight into how the English Language is changing. New entries including c**ted, beatboxer, Old Etonian and bestie have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary as part of the new words list for March 2014. 

The changes include more than 900 updated or new words, phrases and senses, with some entries receiving a rethink for the first time since the original edition of the OED was completed in 1928. Updates to the OED have been taking place quarterly since 2000, and are designed to offer an authoritative catalogue for the changing lexicon of modern times.

Withnall concluded, “Perhaps the message to take away is that people are getting more creative when insulting one another — a whole range of derivatives of the four-letter Middle English swear word “c***” have been added this year, including c**ted, c**ting, c**tish and c**ty*, all adjectives.”  

Many years ago, an OED was compulsory for any secondary school pupil and my generation, lacking television and the internet, amused ourselves by looking up swear words, especially those four-letter ones meaning “intercourse” or delving into Chaucer’s Canterbury’s Tales. Our “set book” from the works of Shakespeare was Henry V and while forced to memorise lines like “Once more into the breach dear friends, once more” did not need any major effort to quote, “Pistol’s cock is up and flashing fire will follow.”  


It is not that the “C” word in question is not well known to us.  To go back to Henry V it is as familiar in our mouths as household words and to many it is a familiarity that breeds not just contempt but other offspring too numerous to mention. In our days though, the other adjectival derivations now in the OED were both unknown and unused. It fact, the word and its usage in Trinidad  prompted our school principal, an Irishman belonging to the Presentation Brothers, a Catholic teaching order, to muse about our way with words and their significance to us. 

 Two boys were brought before him for fighting. He asked one of the boys why this had happened. The boy replied, “He curse my mother.  Brother he tell me my mother’s (new word in the OED).” The principal could not understand why an anatomical term without any further embellishment could provoke such a violent response. He kept asking, “But what did he tell you?” without understanding the power of the word in the Trinidad context.  

Of course (back to Henry V) the principal whipped the offending Adam out of both boys but reformation never came either in a flood or all at once.  In fact, that particular word preceded by “mother” has caused more fights and even deaths in schools and rum-shops throughout Trinidad than any other issue including the honour of wives or the merits of a particular religion or football team over another.  My fear is related to the situation where a radio announcer was extolling the virtues of a particular brand of gas and boasted, “It has more adjectives in it than any other gas.”  My problem is that with the “C” section being boosted by other adjectives, it is just a matter of time before the name of the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo is changed irrevocably and ends up in the “C” Section. This is highly possible since a fifth word is in the “C” section and refers to a late 19th century term derived from the Latin cunnus ‘vulva’ + lingere ‘lick’.  This word, when it eventually became known, was greeted with great glee by my generation and was actually seized upon and applied to our classmates and their predilections without restraint or accuracy. For today’s internet generation this does not raise an eyebrow, alarm or physical reaction. 


I must confess that no longer being a “bibliophile” but now what the OED calls a “bookaholic”, I should know when I’m licked and give in gracefully to the new wave and ways. But I am still stunned by the inclusion of words like “wackadoo” and “wackadoodle” and even more by the explanation provided by Katherine Connor Martin, head of US dictionaries who said that they were elaborations of “wacky”, “wack”, or “wacko”, which were used to refer to people regarded as eccentric and that the silliness of the words themselves contributes to their mildly contemptuous effect.  She also elaborated on another new word in the OED, “crap shoot” which used to refer to a game of dice (or ‘craps’) and which now denotes a situation or undertaking regarded as uncertain, risky, or unpredictable.  In other words, the OED has now placed itself in the “C” section.  It’s process for choosing new entries is now become an enormous crap-shoot.

 

*Tony Deyal was last seen 

checking the OED for the meaning of the new word “bookwoman” and 

wondering whether that will soon become “kindlewoman” and refer to an Amazon.  

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