Loving Oneness Now

THE STUDENT FROM MUMBAI, INDIA

[Page K11]

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Not long after I received my doctorate from London University, my old professor gave me the assignment of helping an Indian student with the statistical aspects of her dissertation. Sita, the daughter of an ophthalmologist, was about 28 years old. Like all educated Indians she spoke fluent English. Although a Parsee by religion, she had received her early schooling in a Roman Catholic Convent near Mumbai, and, of course, this had not included the meanings of any English words considered by many to be "obscene," especially church people. Remember this incident happened decades ago, before the use of these so-called "swear words" became commonplace.

At the psychiatric hospital, Sita and I were working in the children's unit where she found she was at a verbal disadvantage because she did not know the meanings of the "swear words" frequently used by the children.

In the cafeteria over coffee one morning, after explaining her problem Sita said, "Alex, please explain to me the meanings of all these swear words. In my line of work I should know what they mean or my patients will think me woefully ignorant and prudish."

"You want me to tell you what these words all mean, here in the cafeteria, in the cold light of day?" I asked.

"Why not?" Sita replied. "We are both psychologists and surely we should not be embarrassed by any words or word meanings."

Still feeling a little uneasy, I looked around at the other tables and finally said, "Okay, but you tell me each word you want to know about and I will explain it to you."

She smiled expectantly and promptly said, "Well, I do know that arse and bum refer to the buttocks and anus, but I am hazy about what shit means."

"Well, literally it means feces or to excrete feces, but it also refers to any unpleasant or nonsensical situation. Bullshit refers to nonsensical, silly or meaningless statements."

Sita looked quite puzzled. "But if shit refers to stool then why is it a swear word? We all have bowel movements so isn't shit just another synonym for that?" Before I could answer she asked, "So what does fuck mean?"

I grinned faintly. "It literally means sexual intercourse or to have sexual intercourse, but it can also mean 'to mess up' in other contexts, but then we use it with the word up as in the expression, 'What a fuck-up.'"

"Then why is fuck a swear word when almost all the adults of the human race fuck? This is weird. How can normal bodily functions be obscene? One person cannot 'sexual intercourse' another, so how do you say that in English if you cannot use the word fuck?"

"We don't verbalize it, except perhaps by using the generalized euphemism of 'making love to you' or other similar 'polite' statements. Of course, in private, many sexually aroused couples may use that word quite literally and explicitly."

"How hypocritical," Sita exclaimed "And what do cock and cunt mean?"

"A cock is a penis, and a cunt refers to a vagina or the female genitals, but as a derogatory word cunt can mean a nasty, mean, untrustworthy person."

Sita was beginning to look even more bewildered. "Why on earth would the labels for human genitals become swear words that describe people in derogatory ways? It seems that peoples' genitals and normal bodily functions are not held in high regard here. Did not God create cocks, cunts, shitting and fucking? Aren't we all here because our parents fucked? I don't get it? Where is the reverence here?"

I knew the answer to that one. I explained in some detail that all these four-letter anatomically-related words were of Anglo-Saxon origins and that, after the Anglo-Saxon invasions, they were in everyday, normal use through much of England during most of the first millennium AD. However, after William the Conqueror brought Norman French to England after his 1066 invasion, the Royal Court and Nobles spoke French and so Anglo-Saxon English became the vulgar (common) language of the serfs, servants and laborers. The snobbish "upper crust" would not deign to use such earthy vulgar terminology. After all, the Court used French, the Church used Latin, while most scholars, scientists and philosophers preferred Greek. As a result the educated people of England now preferred to use the anatomical words from French, Latin and Greek rather than the debased Anglo-Saxon English words of the lower classes. Even today this linguistic split is still officially in evidence in most schools, churches, universities, organizations, offices and government. However, English, as a living language, moves along its inevitable course to openness of expression as more and more words, previously regarded as obscene, return to enrich it -- from movies, songs, novels and other popular art forms.

Back to Sita. It was my turn to ask her a question. "If you do not use anatomically-related 'obscenities' in India, then how do you swear in Hindi?"

"Usually by referring to other people or their relatives as animals, much like you  would say 'someone is a bitch, or a pig,' but the animal names by themselves are not taboo like your Anglo-Saxon anatomical words are. Our swearing is only in the form of insults, but we use regular Hindi words which, in themselves, are not obscene."

Sita and I then discussed the nave foolishness of any people who allow the words of the language that they (historically speaking) invented, to control them, just because some arrogant Parental Authority System (PAS) such as Church or State says they are forbidden. Words must be our servants, not our masters. Would not everyone think it very strange if the Church or State suddenly declared mouth and spit to be obscene? Or that to say to someone, "You can sexual intercourse off!" is legally a punishable offense. How ridiculous!

By the way, do any authoritarian prudish adults out there still wash out their children's mouths with soap and water for saying fuck, shit or asshole? This is strange as almost all school children know all these four-letter Anglo-Saxon words by the age of eight.

I often tell groups of parents and teachers that the most obscene word in our language is not fuck, but the word stupid. To say "You are stupid" or "You are dumb" to a child is a million times more damaging than any verbal synonym for something as natural, creative and God-given as sexual intercourse.

 

Loving Oneness Now -- Copyright 2007 Alexander Bannatyne, PhD

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