Friday, 11 December 2009

Sticks And Stones

Saturday 28th November. Day off (travel to Oxford)
Accommodation: Longwall Travel Inn, Cowley. 

An opportunity to further walk the path of glamour that comes with the territory when living life as a folk/rock icon; yes, I’m catching up with my laundry today.
There’s not that much to do though, just one or two bits and pieces - ‘smalls’ I think you call them; and a couple of Steeleye Span 40th Anniversary sweat shirts.
Where did the word ‘smalls’ come from, I wonder? Maybe it’s better than saying, ‘underpants’? - Yet it means the same thing.

Moving away from the subject of laundry, I’ve so often pondered this issue of how certain words are, lets say–generally speaking–unacceptable, or at least they are less acceptable to many of us even though they share the same meaning, and we are fully aware of that meaning.
This has always been an area of complete fascination to me.

An example is when the word ‘fuck’ is spelt or printed as ‘f**k’ so as not to offend.
Now why is it that so many people find it OK to see ‘f**k’ written and are consequently not offended, yet they know exactly which letters are missing?

It’s apparently fine for mainstream entertainment such as the Carry On films (entertainment?) to constantly make inferences that are apparently amusing; inferences that - if they were actually spelt out, would shock and outrage many of those rolling around in stitches. And yet, they know exactly what the inferences mean (or I guess they wouldn’t be laughing) - just as much so as if nothing had been left to the imagination.
So the same thing, name, action is in the mind of the listener but elicited by a different sound.

So, can a word itself be offensive?
My answer would be a resounding ‘no’. All you have to do is think about how a word, any word would not be comprehended by one who does not know the language and vocabulary the word is a part of; it means nothing. 

You can take a group of people and present the same expletive to each, and you’ll find a varied response from one person to the next. So this points to one thing only; that we individually pull feelings and emotions from various recesses of our psyche, at a moments notice, in response to the learned perception of a sound.

Now if I were talking about ‘intent’ this might be different. If I sense that there is aggressive, or demeaning intent in the words of someone towards ‘blacks’ or ‘immigrants’ for example, I find that worrying; in this breath I’ve heard jokes that just aren’t funny, but also, I’ve heard many, again deemed unacceptable, that are actually hilarious. 
Yes, I absolutely don’t care what the PC brigade say, there are some brilliant gags about blacks, the Irish, Muslims, and yes, even the English.

I know the above ideas will seem quite obvious to anyone who’s thought about this to any extent, but a great many obviously haven’t thought about it at all. This is why when they talk of ‘offensive language’ it is clearly the language itself that is being blamed without any of the responsibility placed on the offended.
But the listener surely has to accept some responsibility.

I’ve even seen people become offended, enraged even, as a result of something they’ve misheard; so sometimes, you see, one even imagines the word that one then goes on to be offended by.

I’ve observed the kindest, most compassionate people castigated on the basis of interpretation, interpretation that’s shaped by nothing other than the passing geometry and agreed protocols of that particular time. 

I have a hunch about this. There is something in our primal makeup–a two sided syndrome–that gives cause for us to feel the potential to become either the victim or the victor in life, and the perception of our own ‘safety’ plays a key part in this - something we innately seek whether by running or by ruling. (Reading this back, I feel that this point is not so understandable, and needs to be expanded on).

OK then, let's think about this. The emotion that a word, a sound, triggers; if this is unpleasant, it follows that
the emotion has its roots in an area that feels–probably unconsciously–to some degree threatening. To know precisely why it's perceived as threatening is potentially complicated.
Although it could be as straightforward as the look of disapproval on a parent's face when a certain word is uttered, the impact can be strong enough for the connection to be a difficult one to make later in life. Nevertheless, all the wiring is in place for the feeling to be re-experienced.
One thing that we innately do is to find whatever safety is available to us, again, as we may well have done after that very first experience of disapproval; this may not mean we find the most self-beneficial method, but it will be one that's familiar.
To feel or express a sense of moral outrage, or even disdain, is, I am saying, a position of safety.

I'd even suggest that there is something primal that draws us to the very area we seek safety from, which may well have everything to do with why we tinker so with double entendre.

Am I arguing that we should all go around swearing at each other all the times? No I’m not. I’m just saying that we need to stop thinking that it’s always others who are responsible for the way we feel.

Sunday 29th November. The New Theatre, Oxford.

Accommodation: As last light. 


A cold theatre. It’s not often you watch people wrapping coats around themselves as you perform. I went on stage in a sweater, for–as far I can recall–the very first time. It warmed up a little by the time we got well into the second half of the show.

Given that it was cold, and that the very large auditorium was perhaps just two thirds full (if that), and that it was wet and miserable outside, and that it was a Sunday night; it was a great evening. The audience was vocal and appreciative, and I’d say everyone in the band felt we played well.


  1. An interesting discussion of language, this one. I like it a lot. May I recommend a book that you might like to read on the road to pass the time? Spellbound by James Essinger goes into all the nuts and bolts of this beautiful language of ours, even down to why 'a' is the first letter of the alphabet and the only difference between German and English being French. It's more exciting than it might sound to someone less obsessed with lingustics and language but I have a feeling you'll be like I was and not be able to out it down.

  2. I'll look into that book, thanks for your comments, Ken.

  3. ...and there I am with a typo in the first post I leave here. How embarrassing.

  4. I wouldn't have noticed had you not pointed it out.