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Scatology: some things never change

And now for something completely different:

If you have a few free moments in your day, visit Google Books and take a look at (or download for free) A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, Esq. 1788. The author definitely has an ironic last name in this context.

The book is sort of the 18th century’s version of the urban dictionary (more like, the urban dictionary is the 21st century of this thing). It lists “contemporary” slang and scatological humor for quasi-academic reasons. The CDVT is by no means the first of its kind (check out the preface where he lists references), but it is a culmination (at its time) of several major works on the subject going back to the 16th century. In the book, there are endlessly amusing (and offending) terms ripe for re-introduction into modern usage. Basically just flip open to a random page and you have yourself a list of band names and song titles ready to use.

Here are some examples (some perhaps more scatological and familiar than others). Note that the censorship below is actually in the original text. Here is an excerpt from the preface explaining why some terms were “softened”:

“Some words and explanations in the former edition having been pointed out as rather indecent or indelicate…these have been either omitted, softened, or their explanations taken from books long sanctioned with general approbation…so that it is hoped this work will now be found as little offensive to delicacy as the nature of it would admit.”

Although modern scholars who study that period are already no doubt familiar with these cultural connections, it is a funny reminder for the rest of us that some things never change (this is from 1788 after all, 220 years ago). Indeed, the disclaimer still sounds like something from a bit of MPAA propaganda. Even as a modern person who is no stranger to scatology, one only need read some of the “poetry” and “satire” of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester to be stunned into coy and bashful silence (Jonnny Depp played Wilmot in the movie The Libertine). These examples are a fun (and potentially offending) reminder that certain English words have nearly always been considered offensive to sensitive ears (with their same definitions!). Sorry if this offends YOUR ears:

“C**T. The the cunnus of the Latin dictionaries ; a nasty name for a nasty thing”
“DUCK F-CK-R. The man who has the care of the poultry on board a ship of war.”
“To F—k. To copulate.”
“WINTER’S DAY. He is like a winter’s day, short and dirty.”

Images from the pages for the previous entries (note the “s” and “f” both appear as an “f” in Ye Olde Typeface):

duck fkr

fart crack



Again, when you get a chance, take a look at the A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (it isn’t that long).

Which is your favorite word from the Vulgar Tongue as described by Frankie Grose Esq.? Which one would you use as a song title? A band name? Which is your favorite insult?

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