I remember my mother always did her best – and she was very successful in this endeavor – to speak euphemistically, to avoid being accused of vulgarity (I believe). She was born on March 23, 1932, and her generation was like that, at least the aspirational classes were. It’s likely that my preference for the vulgar in language is a natural and predictable reaction to Cynthia Quinton’s lifelong effort to avoid the profane, but perhaps it’s just that I was a child when swearing was first allowed on British television and I took to it like a pig to shit.
The mysteries of life, the things we can never know. What to do? Speculate, why not? And then look again at what we know for sure, or think we do. I recall Cynthia would sometimes refer to someone she considered to be odd, strange, or in some way unfathomable as ‘a funny article.’
I found myself thinking about this just now because of all the stupid work I have done in my life as a specialist in the English language, I have come up against the most tiresome. I am copy editing an English language textbook. This runs to 320 pages, and throughout the text, the same mistake has been repeated. The problem is the absence of the definite article before the words’ students’ and ‘children.’ There are hundreds of these mistakes, and for some stupid and non-negotiable reason, I have to correct each one individually.
I went for a long run on the beach yesterday afternoon. It was cold and foggy, and I felt like I was running in the clouds, or heaven. As I ran, enjoying the muffled booming of the container ship fog horns, I thought again about life and death and the articles of faith we make up as we go along. Again, I came to no conclusion other than I spend too much time thinking about life and not enough time living it. My mother would have called me ‘a silly bugger.’ Even she had her limits.