19th September

Please Moderate Your Language

‘Could you please moderate your language?’ a voice from the audience requested.

The writer, making a speech after receiving an award for his most recent novel, had just used a certain word for the second time.

‘Moderate your own fucking language,’ the writer said, using the word for the third time. And continued to express his views on matters literary, cultural, historical and political.

What was meant by the request from the listener? What was implied in the verb ‘moderate’? Not, surely, that the views of the writer were offensive, but that his mode of expressing them, his language, was. But wait. All of his language? No. Some of his words? No. One word in particular? Yes, the single representative of what is sometimes called ‘bad’ language. The moderation requested was the removal of one word and its associated forms: the word ‘fuck’.

Essentially: eliminate the word ‘fuck’ from the speech and nobody would have been offended. All would have been able fully to appreciate the writer’s views on matters literary, cultural, historical and political. There would have been no distractions from the content of his speech.

Aye, that’ll be fucking right.

Consider the proposition that ‘bad language’ exists. Language is made up of words. If some words are bad, others must be good. What makes words good or bad? Convention, taste, authority, law. Remove the bad words, these four chums say, and language will be all the better for it. But who, if not the speaker of the bad words, will moderate their removal? How about the four chums, the custodians of language? Let them take the bad words away for questioning. If this action trespasses too much on notions of civilisation and tolerance, let the questioning be done secretly, in an alien tongue. Let the bad words be subject to extraordinary rendition.

‘Extraordinary’ means ‘amazing’, ‘unusual’, ‘exceptional’. ‘Rendition’ means ‘delivery’, ‘performance’, ‘interpretation’. These are not bad words.

A critic once counted four thousand uses of the word ‘fuck’ in another novel by the same writer.

Had the critic nothing better to do?

Irrelevant. Take the writer away for questioning.

The four chums appreciate, by the way, the listener’s use of the word ‘please’.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium and Piano: Kit Downes
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