Using the wrong words

I don’t know whether it’s Channel 4 or the US network who censor The Daily Show’s language. Either way, whoever bleeped out Jon Stewart mouthing the word ‘fuck’ on Wednesday night’s show must have felt pretty stupid.

While we’re talking swearing, Norm has problems with the word ‘ass’:

I do, however, want to support the correspondent who wrote in to grumble that ‘”ass” was used instead of “arse”‘. This is not because ‘ass’ is an Americanism, but just because it’s an inferior usage, or so it has always struck me. ‘Arse’ is plain and upfront, so to speak, unashamed of any coarseness listeners may find in the word. ‘Ass’, to my ear, is coy and, though not exactly a euphemism, carrying something of the same intent, trying to smooth away some of the roughness. This effect comes partly just from the loss of the ‘r’ and consequent shortening of the length of the vowel, but partly also from the shared meaning with the animal – as if the speaker or writer might be hoping you’ll be deceived by the ambiguity. ‘Arse’ sounds more blunt and honest. With ‘ass’ a politeness is intruding in the wrong place.

All probably valid, but I think ‘ass’ will remain the favoured word as it’s easier to say. Most words with an ‘ar’ sound tend towards ‘a’ when spoken quickly.

This is as good a point as any to mention that ‘the back of beyond’ when translated into German becomes ‘am Arsch der Welt’. Never quite had the courage to drop that into a class discussion.

Regarding Americanisms, Norm also said:

American English, British English, who cares? So long as people make themselves understood, well and good; and if they can speak and write in an interesting or arresting way, better still. Any words available for these purposes may be called upon.

Well, quite. Picking up and using words and phrases from other languages is a joyous thing. I have plenty of quick conversations that start with ‘hey’ and end with ‘no worries, bye’, and I’m not going to be told I can’t use such terms because I was born on the wrong patch of land. What a completely ridiculous idea. I was criticised last month for using a word that wasn’t British; I managed to swallow the rant, but it was close.