Sitting on the subway or walking down the street, I often feel like cringing as I overhear nearby conversations where every other word seems to be “f*#!.”
The tight rein on polite language of decades past has evaporated. Words that once meant a mouth washed out with soap are now part of the everyday vocabulary. I’ve even found myself weakening when I’m upset, but I’m not proud of it. For the New Year, I’m aiming to use more interesting ways of expressing myself.
To find other options, I’ll simply travel back in time to 19th century Britain, where words were colourful without being quite so off colour. The richness of that period’s language never fails to make me smile.
For instance, while singer Carly Simon wouldn’t have had a hit if her song, You’re So Vain, had been titled, You’re a Coxcomb, she would certainly have sent people scrambling for their dictionaries. Conceited or vain is the definition, although the term once meant fool, because the fools (jesters) in the royal retinue wore caps adorned with bells and topped with a piece of red cloth shaped like a cock’s (rooster’s) comb.
Often, said coxcombs speak nothing but fustian — pretentious, pompous language. We’ve all certainly come across people in positions of power who hold forth as if every word is a pearl of wisdom, when we privately consider their words nothing but faradiddles (lies).
One of my personal favourites from the 1800s is rapscallion, which translates to rascal, scamp or rogue. Let it trip off your tongue and enjoy the sound.
So, time travel it is. The next time I’m in high dudgeon (angry) about something, don’t be surprised if I eschew an expletive in favour of balderdash (nonsense). It has a satisfying ring to it as we ring in the New Year.