Friday, June 16, 2006


ACG may have a thing about the word 'cock', and it has to be said that as an expletive it has a lot going for it. Not quite as obviously rude as 'fuck', but containing all of the Anglo-Saxon vigour of the more common swearword. When you've just dropped a raw egg on the floor, or inadvertently smashed the last decent wine glass in the house, thus making it necessary to drink your Riesling from a tumbler, it is perfectly acceptable to say, quite loudly, 'Oh Cock!' James May even does it on prime time telly, albeit on BBC 2.

But I prefer a more rounded swearword, something that is spoken from the diaphragm, rather than spat out from the throat. Which is why, when aroused to such things, I am more likely to shout 'Arse!'

Arse is a splendid word. It's derived from the Old English 'ærs', meaning tail or rump. This comes from the Proto-Germanic root, 'arsoz' which also gives us the Old Norse 'ars' and Middle Dutch 'ærs'. The Old Scots form 'airse' is perhaps my favourite.

It's not a particularly rude swearword, unless you're a sainted aunt or a vicar. Arse can be undirected - a sotto voce 'arse' when you make a mistake in the Sudoku, for instance. Or it can be directed at a person exhibiting unamusing or irritating behaviour, as in 'what an arse!' In this respect it is much more benign than its bigger brother, 'arse-hole', almost as if narrowing the description down to the specific part of the anatomy somehow makes it more crude. An arse is just stupid looking; an arse-hole is shitty.

Of course, in America, the term arse is rarely if ever heard. There people prefer to use 'ass', which is a very different expletive. Ass is always directed - you would never hear anyone mutter 'ass' under their breath. Unless they were pushing a shopping trolley full of cardboard and smelled of methylated spirit and dustbins. Or perhaps were travelling somewhere on public transport. But 'dumb-ass', 'ass-hole' and the wonderful 'ass-hat' are frequently flung at bad drivers or other inconsiderates in society.

I would call a person 'ass-hat' in written English, indeed I have done in this blog. But it's not a word that I have managed to incorporate into everyday speech yet. I'm not usually a fan of importing Americanisms into the queen's English, but 'arse-hat' just doesn't work. It's all about the sound of the thing, those two flat 'a's. So I shall encourage the adoption of ass-hat, but staunchly defend the arse.

In Welsh, which is a language with no swearwords at all. They say 'twlch', which basically means 'bottom'. Not rude at all, merely descriptive. But when the blood's up and they're not doing so well in the rugby, it becomes 'twlch tun' (roughly pronounced toolch cheen, but with that first ch rasping, as in 'loch', and the second hard, as in 'cherry'). This is arse-hole, and it's about the rudest thing a Welshman can say.*

So the next time you stub your toe on the step, or lock you keys in the car; when grandma's staying for the weekend and she asks you to go back to the kitchen for 'just one more thing'; when there's nothing on the telly but football; when your keyboard dies and you're only sixty k in;** don't spit out a terse 'fuck', nor scare the children by shouting 'bugger'; take a deep breath, like they taught you in singing classes, and rumble out a floor-rattling 'ARSE!'

* in Welsh, that is. There's plenty of ruder things they quite often say in English.
** sorry, I know I promised not to do that.


Blogger Gabriele C. said...

And there I thought Welsh was a language you pillage for swear words no one will understand.

Well, I'll stick to Icelandic then. Or Russian, but there are too many imigrants, legal and illegal, here, to get away with it.

June 16, 2006 7:51 pm  
Blogger Stuart MacBride said...

Arse is a fine word! Arse, arse, arse, arse!

June 16, 2006 7:53 pm  
Blogger Anonymous City Girl said...

there cock may not be as rude as fuck... but here, no way.
cock is way worse to use in mixed company than fuck over here.

June 16, 2006 8:09 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Every time I came over here, nothing new. Blogger is playing tricks on me.

My blog world is on her arse.

June 16, 2006 9:44 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

Gabriele, Welsh is heavily influenced by the Methodist Church, and if there ever were any swearwords in it, they've long since been expunged. Most Welsh speakers will revert to English when they curse, which is very funny to listen to - a stream of pure welsh punctuated with the odd 'bastard!', heavy emphasis on the first syllable, then a measurable pause before the second.

Well, ACG, you'll just have to be an ambassador for 'cock' - your task is to use it as a swearword at least once a day.

And Sandra, I don't know what you mean. We have a new sheep, a new fruit. Sure the infected waterfowl is the same, but that's because we haven't had any more bird flu media frenzies around here lately.

Or were you just making a comment about the toilet humour level of intellect around here?


June 17, 2006 11:18 am  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

NO! I meant that when I came earlier, the post from the day before didn't show up! And it wasn't that I needed to hit refresh, because I'd turned my computer off! So, I thought there was no new post and it turns out, it looked like I was ignoring you, except I really couldn't see the post!

Terrenoire's blog loads all funny for me too and I have to hit refresh all the time to get it to finally load right.

Which IS a pain in the arse.

June 18, 2006 3:20 am  
Blogger Vincent said...

While I concur with all those very good arguments, I feel a stand should be made for 'fuck' as the best word for expressing utter irritation when 'cock' is too flippant and 'arse' too tame.

I'm not a sweary sort, but I couldn't deal with computers and computer systems as much I do if it wasn't for the word 'fuck'.

June 18, 2006 5:57 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

Vincent, I think the world would be a much more violent and dangerous place without the word 'fuck'. Just imagine all those frustrated IT systems engineers wandering around punching things; those urban youths unable to string a sentence together; those bleep machine operators made redundant from their highly paid jobs at the BBC. No, if we didn't have the word 'fuck', we'd surely have to invent it.

But is it the best expletive in any given situation? Surely not.

June 19, 2006 8:57 am  

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