ethel’s words

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LANGUAGE AND ITS TABOOS

My ancestral tongue--but not my mother tongue--is to me a language of ugly tones, harsh consonants, and (I imagine, since I’ve never heard it spoken) a language of little rhythm.

Vestiges survive, I observe, wrongly or rightly, with modified accents and some new meanings, in the daily speech of minimally educated Yankee Americans. It takes a Shakespeare--or some other unbelievably skilled writer to shape it into beauty. Even so, the Sonnets are unintelligible to sampling readers, even to highly educated persons whose specialty is something other than literature. (I love the Sonnets; any parts I might not understand I leave, like beautiful weeds in a tended garden).

The Sonnets have been deciphered with considerable skill by Dr. Helen Heightsman Gordon, in “The Secret Love Story in Shakespeare’s Sonnets”. Fragments of my mother tongue are in her book. Shakespeare’s language has now been deprived of some of its most meaningful words. Shakespeare has been cleaned up--and I consider that a crime.

Words of my ancestral tongue that are identified as such, most regarded as slang, are verboten. And much used in private anger! It is my understanding that the forbidden Anglo-Saxon words are becoming common in many forms of drama. (For many decades, I have not indulged in viewing drama--movies or other--but I gain some information through reading.)

Decades past, I wrote a long essay (I should dig it out) examining how the forbidden words are tools for oppressing women. I see continuing evidence of that. There is still one word that is considered so vile that it brings shock and discomfort to persons who freely use other Old English/Anglo-Saxon “obscene” words. That word is the one that means “female”; thus meaning “woman”.

Ethel C. Hale