On fuck and Marmite

Un agent de police anglais a dressé un PV de £80 (120€ à peu près) contre un jeune homme qui venait d’employer le mot fuck dans une conversation avec ses potes. Le porte-parole de la police compare l’attitude du public envers ce mot à l’amour ou la haine que les gens éprouvent pour le Marmite — une pâte à tartiner salée à base de levure de bière. Ce nom commercial est, bien entendu, un emprunt au français.

Via Bystander, a blogging English magistrate judge: A youth from Kent has been issued a £80 (about 117.139019€, if you ask Google) on-the-spot fine for using “the F-word”, as they put it. Here’s the BBC news report:

Kurt Walker, 18, from Deal, Kent, said he would go to court rather than pay the fine handed out in a town park.

He said he received the fixed-penalty notice after he used the F-word to a group of friends he met in the park.

Kent Police said fixed penalty notices were just one tool to help them to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Student Mr Walker was on his way to a youth centre where he works as a volunteer when he stopped to talk to friends.

“One of my mates said, ‘What have you been up to’, and I swore when I replied,” he said. […]

“In my eyes I have not committed any crime whatsoever,” he said, adding that swearing was a normal part of the language he and his friends use.

Dover District Council’s anti-social behaviour unit works closely with Kent Police to tackle bad behaviour.

“Swearing and abusive behaviour certainly is not normal behaviour and I feel it should never be used in a public place,” said councillor Julie Rook.

A Kent Police spokeswoman said: “The public expect us to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Bystander quotes a different press report, one I can’t find online, in which a police spokesman draws a perilous comparison:

A Kent Police spokesman confirmed: “He didn’t swear at the police, he was talking to his mates [but] it was close enough to the police officer.

“It’s an offence under the Public Order Act. It’s quite reasonable to give someone a fixed penalty notice and if someone doesn’t want to pay it they can go to court.

“Some people think it [the fine] is over the top, some people think it’s perfectly reasonable.

“It’s one of those things that divides people, like Marmite.”

Now do we have to defend the honour of Marmite or the use of taboo language within one’s own social circle, be it in a public venue?

Marmite, the word, is of course a borrowing from French, where the noun marmite ([maʁ’mit]) denotes a cauldron or large cooking pot.

A small addendum, penned a few hours later: The Guardian is a paper on whose very sensible attitude towards taboo language I’ve already commented. Still, it was surprising to see in a book review by Natasha Walter (dated February 18, 2006) the word fuck employed outside a direct quote:

As Erica Jong, erstwhile celebrator of the zipless fuck, tells Levy: “Sexual freedom can be a smokescreen for how far we haven’t come.”

The book is Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy.

Oh bugger! (A public service announcement)

Le sketch The Word “Fuck” [mp3] [script], bien que confidentiel, a été largement attribué à Monty Python. Il semble que cela ait été par erreur : un témoignage affirme que l’auteur de la version finale fut un certain Jack Walker, connu pour ayant été «la voix de Disney» dans les parcs d’attraction de cette société. Ceci collerait également mieux à l’accent nord-américain cultivé qu’on peut entendre sur l’enregistrement.

I may have inadvertently contributed to circulating a falsehood. It concerns a brilliant bit of comedy that goes by the title The Usage of the Word “Fuck” or The History of the Word “Fuck” or simply Fuck, The Word. Neither the script nor the recording is particularly easy to find, but wherever I saw it referenced, it was attributed to Monty Python. The delivery and format are sufficiently Pythonesque that it never occurred to me to doubt their authorship, even though the cultured American-accented voice on the recording doesn’t seem to belong to any of the Pythons and the skit is not part of their famous collections.

This morning on IRC, Dan Dickinson kept insisting that this work couldn’t be Monty Python’s. He came up with a page that quotes an e-mail claiming that while the origins of the recording are still in the dark, the author and speaker of the final version was one Jack Wagner:

The guy who does the audio on the “Fuck, The Word” (aka “The Word Fuck”) track is NOT George Carlin, nor is it Monty Python, as is often credited.

It is the late Jack Wagner, the former ‘voice of Disneyland’.

I know, since I gave him the ORIGINAL copy on tape (before the internet) in 1989 during a time when we worked together. I have NO IDEA who did that version, but it was much shorter & the quality of the tape was quite poor. (Musicians, voiceover artists, engineers and other recording guys often traded tapes of rare & funny stuff. Unfortunately, quality was lost in generation after generations of copies.) Jack decided to re-do it, correcting some grammar and adding a few more examples of his own, then backed the whole thing up with the Vivaldi music.

I know this - I had the original copy and heard it first. Later, I heard from other techies at the park that he was so proud of it that he’d share it with everyone. I had always worried it would get him into trouble, but if ANYONE at Disneyland had ‘job security’, it would be him!

Years later when I heard it on the internet (the world’s bulletin board or bathroom wall), I just had to snicker. But we need to give credit where credit is due. His family may wish to forget it - the ‘park’ certainly does! - but he seemed to have been proud of it, so give him the creds.

The author of this missive wants to remain anonymous so as not to endanger his employment. But as anonymous e-mails go, this one is rather convincing. I’m happy to give credits to Jack Wagner. Even better: if this story is true, I see no reason not to make the recording [mp3] available for download.

Update, 2007-06-03: This little document is responsible for an astonishing part of my download bandwidth. I have therefore uploaded it to the Internet Archive and changed the link to their service. Many thanks.

Avoiding the asterisks … of avoidance

Quelques remarques au sujet des gros mots dans la presse. Et comment éviter les astérisques d’évitement.

The software upgrade seems to have gone all right (please report any problems you may have with this site). Posting, on the other hand, has been light; mainly because I’m recovering from a particularly tenacious cold/cough/bronchitis, which has me look at the more substantial posts in the pipeline and shake my head in disgust about their lack of clarity and conciseness.

Cartoon: No ****ing asterisks!

To tide you over, some more levity. The language blogs have been abuzz with posts about swearwords lately — their origins, their usages, and the annoying tendency of some media to censor, edit or otherwise partially camouflage the offending words, blatantly disregarding the speakers or authors who chose them in the first place. (Search engines still have problems retrieving the appropriate posts, but for a small sample, try this and this Technorati search — I just can’t get their Boolean operators to work correctly.)

In the latest instalment of this meta-series, Arnold Zwicky approvingly cites the Guardian, whose editors have no problem printing relevant quotes in full:

Sir Richard [Mottram] put it more succinctly. He is said to have told a colleague: “We’re all fucked. I’m fucked. You’re fucked. The whole department’s fucked. It’s been the biggest cock-up ever and we’re all completely fucked.”

The Guardian Style Guide — always a pleasant read, and at the very least you’ll enjoy the cartoons (see above) — has the following to say:

do not describe this as “a good, honest old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon word” because, first, here is no such thing as an Anglo-Saxon word (they spoke Old English) and, more important, it did not appear until the late 13th century
see swearwords

We are more liberal than any other newspaper, using words such as cunt and fuck that most of our competitors would not use.
The editor’s guidelines are straightforward:
First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend.
Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.
Third, the stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it.
Finally, never use asterisks, which are just a copout.

Asterisks are explicitly forbidden. Very sensible advice.

On the same topic, when I was talking about this sort of thing with my friend Kareen some time ago over a pleasant cup of tea under her plum trees, I was reminded that the asterisks, periods or underscores of avoidance aren’t an English-only phenomenon. In 1947, Jean-Paul Sartre published a play called La P… respectueuse. “P…” stands for “Putain”, whore. Here, the avoidance is achieved with a standard ellipsis: three dots, which according to French typographic rules are printed without a preceding blank space. The number of dots does not equal the number of elided letters. Kareen surmised that literary scholars and the like would refer to the play as “La Putain respectueuse”, though.

  • 2004-07-07
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Eric Idle, in his own words the “sixth nicest” Python, has recently been fined $5000 for pronouncing the word “fuck” during a radio show. He duly sat down and wrote a sweet little song dedicated to the FCC. You can download the mp3 from Monty Python themselves; the lyrics and another copy of the song […]

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