Sunday, May 30, 2004

There's a record for that?...

So, A2 students out there amongst you, I hope you find something interesting and useful in the archives here to help you in your revision. But really, I'm talking to AS students this week - hey guys, it's done, time to kick back and relax for a week or two. Hope the exam(s) went okay.

So, for a little light linguistic interest, how about Gordon Ramsay and his swearing? While you've had your heads down in exam halls, he's been hard at it - first with Kitchen Nightmares and now Hell's Kitchen. But don't be fooled by the media buzz and fluff about the latter - it's Kitchen Nightmares that's the hard stuff. Because in it, Ramsay broke the previous record for broadcast swearing - 111 times in one half hour episode!

Some people will undoubtedly see this as a sign of contemporary moral failure; it's certainly a sign of what broadcasters think audiences will tolerate. But is it perhaps an indication that traditional expletives - especially the f-word - are becoming so commonplace in all forms of discourse that they are actually in danger, maybe not of dying out, but of losing the "magic powers" they had when they were taboo? Are new expletives being created to regain that shock value? Check out the links and post your thoughts...

Chef Ramsay in new television swearing record

Expletive deleted

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Your freedom or everyone's freedom?

Hmmm, thanks to Helsinki, Sarah, Brad and Dannyboy for flagging up important points in last week's tagboard debate about judges, political correctness and freedom of speech. I want to pick up on that this week, because an appeal to "freedom of speech" is an argument often wheeled out like a cannon to blow political correctness off the agenda. But this is usually a rather limited argument, based on emotional responses to anyone attempting to control the way we speak. This is at least partly because there is a strong vein of resistance in traditional British culture to anything that smacks of being told how to think.

Well, I'm as resistant to that as the next person, but I also like to think of myself as someone who treats other people the way I would wish to be treated myself. As I'm not overly keen on being patronised, insulted, or abused - whether intentionally or not - I try not to do it to other people. And for that, I need to show sensitivity to how other people feel about the words I use.

We also need to consider more critically what "freedom of speech" really is. In Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale, (go and read it immediately if you haven't already!) one of the characters tries to define types of freedom, breaking it down into the freedom to, and freedom from. He uses this analysis to justify the appalling oppression of women within the novel, but it is a useful distinction nonetheless. Are we looking for the freedom to use language to hurt other people's feelings, to support discriminatory attitudes, and to incite fear and hatred? Or are we looking for freedom from these things? Your freedom as a member of a more powerful social group? Or everyone's freedom?

Check out the links below for further perspectives on the power of language.

Kilroy's sacking and the free speech debate

More on The Handmaid's Tale

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Contempt of court

So, this week I'm thinking about my forthcoming jury service and lo and behold, what do I find in the quality press but news that the country's new judges are being issued with a great big doorstop of a book giving them advice and guidance about equality under the law. Quite right and proper too, but what's interesting for us here is the way in which contemporary language change is defined by this advice.

In the article in The Times linked below, we see advice about word class usage - "black" must only be used as an adjective not a noun; about the use of "British" as a synonym; about the process of pejoration; and about politically correct terms for people who may experience social disadvantage.

What is also interesting about this, of course, is what it says about the most recent crop of judges. Pragmatically, this advice assumes that its reader needs to be told about equality. This suggests that new judges are either living in a social environment completely detached from the reality of modern Britain, or they are so entrenched in racist attitudes that they need to be told directly where the institution of the law draws the line that they must not cross. Either way, it could be argued that this is evidence to support the idea that language change is something that people in positions of power follow, not lead.

To read the article in The Times, you have to fiddle about a bit again, I'm afraid.
1) Click on the link below to the homepage of The Times
2) Type "Judges told" into search box and click on "go"
3) When the search enquiry box comes up, click on "search" in the left hand side "search the site" box
4) Click on "judges told to watch their language in changed society"
5) Come back and post your thoughts and comments!

Judges told to watch their language in changed society

Pejoratives and the process of pejoration

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Street talkin'

Hey, out there - you're all doing a fantastic job on the tagboard discussion! Thanks for loads of interesting stuff about the language of insults and for some great recommendations of sites to look at. I've added these to the links section below so if you missed it, go click!

Tom, the self-confessed "Saga lout", has given us this week's talk topic - new slang. Today, The Sun reported the publication of a book which aims to give us all an insight into the very latest in rhyming and other kinds of slang. The trouble with any kind of lexicography is that the minute you put the last full stop on the last page of your dictionary, it's already out of date. But that's the beauty of slang - it's out there hustling, never standing still, always on the look out for a new trick.

So, my question this week: is this so-called new slang really out there in use? Check the links (be warned, sometimes The Sun moves things after I've posted them so you may need to root around a bit on their website...) and let me know.

Time for Posh & Becks?

Check out exactly what slang is