Friday, July 29, 2011

Why God Hates German Words

My grandmother had strong words for me.

Who the hell taught her how to use facebook, and why?

I had used the word "hell" in a facebook post. I didn't say "Hell is a wonderful empire, to which I swear my allegiance." I didn't even say "Dude, go to hell. I hate you." I said something like "Hell, I'll give them all to you right now for $9.95."

She drove to my house and scolded me. Just one more infernal consequence of the Battle of Hastings.

When the Normans came, they brought French. They enslaved the old German speakers of Britain, and the language of the people who bathed more often was, for centuries to come, Romance. Over time the languages fused into English, but the man in the high castle still tended to use his Roman words, and the man on the street still tended to use his old dumb ones. When a man on the street wanted to sound smart, he could try to pass for blue-blooded by switching words like "friendly" for "amicable", or "smart" for "intelligent."  It still happens. Lawyers are far too sophisticated for the oldspeak. Policemen, charged with high office but often born of a commoner strain, struggle with sloppy mismatches, calling a suspect "the individual," in utter subconscious terror of being labeled the sort of guy who uses the word "man."

Old religious words and words for bodily functions had it especially bad under the new regime. "Intercourse" is fine, but saying "fuck" is just mean. Grandma hates hell, but wouldn't bat an eye if I was looking for my other infernal shoe.

As with every other oppression in Christendom, justifications for this bigotry were soon found in the bible. Among my favorite tortured verses is Jesus's:

"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

I'm told "empty words" are those Germanic ones from Carlin's list. Nevermind that "brood of vipers" is pretty precisely the Hellenistic phrase for "sons of bitches." 

The bible is full of this sailor-speak. 

And I'm convinced that Paul would have called the Corinthians fuck-ups, if his century were within reach of so perfect a word.


Oh hi there, Hacker News. Someone apparently submitted this and it's doing pretty well. Some sort of HN or reddit flare-up happens with more of my posts than not, and it always has me wanting to find a way to capitalize on it and become some professional writer-philosopher. One with muscles and a serious artist face.  Hey, a boy has got to dream. Anyways, I can write stuff. I'm a little bit smart. You should totally hire me or something. Or what if I wrote a book? Would that work? If I've got, like, 140 RSS subscribers, but 50,000 hits a month through sites like HN and reddit, do you think that's enough of a following to get me somewhere? Talk to me.


  1. Both Jesus' and Jesus's are correct. You monster.

  2. I'd buy your book

  3. You should put a big FOLLOW MY RSS button on the bottom of your post. 140 subscribers doesn't make sense for 50k hits/month, boost it!

  4. You really don't understand the New Testament.

    Paul would have called the Corinthians "You motherfuckers."

  5. Your writing style is exquisite :) Good luck on your book project.

  6. brilliant.. u got future in writing... keep goin!

  7. another reason to use google+ xD

  8. Lost 5 minutes reading this. Catchy title bait.

  9. Elliot Engle beat you to the book. This is extremely similar in content to his book /A Light History of the English Language/ and a lecture he gave semi- regularly at NC State when I was a student there.

  10. The book I want to write ain't about English.

  11. Give it a shot, then! What's the worst that could happen? You get to put a book on your CV!

  12. Wait: "God" *is* a German word. As are "Father", "Holy" and "Ghost".

  13. Brilliant. You didn't directly state (I mean "say") this, but I inferred your disdain -- (rather, I mean "dislike") -- for those who inculcate (or should I say "assign") their own meaning and interpretation of words.

    On goes the forever battle of those who use language for communication versus those professional technicians and defenders of the "proper and correct use of English grammar" otherwise known as the "Grammar Nazi" - another German reference paralleling your article. ;)