Friday, August 22, 2008

Remember the Scrotum Debate?

In the Guardian today is an article entitled Children Are Swearing Already, So Why Can't Jacqueline Wilson? Here is an excerpt.

Anxiety about the possibility that children will be corrupted if they hear rude words has been around for a long time. Some readers will remember Robert Westall's magnificent The Machine Gunners. This is one of the best "war" novels for children, exploring the underground world of boys in the space left them by absent parents. There are parallels in world fiction, including one by Nobel prize-winning Kenzaburo Oe's Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids and I think Westall's matches them all for power and story. However, a good deal of critical noise was made over the fact that Westall dared to use the word "bloody" in the book - several times!

Westall, a splendidly robust character, had no trouble defending it, but the absurdity lay in why he had to defend it in the first place. There can have been very few children at that time who had not heard he word "bloody" and Westall's claim was, of course, that it was entirely "appropriate".

This is the key word. Jacqueline is a sophisticated, knowledgeable and subtle writer. If she chooses to use the word "twat", it's because she has sensed that it is entirely appropriate. No one is going to be corrupted by it (as if!), no one is going to suffer because of it, no one is going to be emotionally damaged by it. The word in common British-English usage has come to mean something not much different from "twit" or "stupid person" and if you want to represent the speech of young people today, then that is one stroke of the writer's paintbrush that is available to you.
The conversation continues in the comments. This is an interesting piece and I agree most heartily with the notion that when a writer chooses a word, it is because he/she has been deliberate and believes that it is the best choice.

1 comment:

  1. It's not a word one runs across just every day, is it!?
    I have to say... people here SWEAR A BUNCH. So, the whole thing does seem disingenuous. On the other hand, it's a class thing; there's a movement (at least here in Scotland) for people to be sort of upwardly mobile, to not be so easily identified by where they grew up, etc. etc. -- class lines are still very much in evidence here, so people are trying to move into the upper middle, and move their kids, too. Maybe that's where the hysteria comes from? Or else the upper middles thinking that the lowers are having it too much their own way?

    I will never understand this place.