‘A Pox On You Sir, And May A Thousand Fleas …’


In the mid-1800s,  the swearing of  Irishmen and “navvies” working on the  railway line through the  Karoo was said to be strong enough to make a sailor blush.  At the end of the century,  the lurid language of  British soldiers greatly offended the locals.

Then,  in 1901, in an attempt to ease irritations  with a touch of  levity, a passing Professor of Languages from  a British university told Karoo people that after spending some time in India he concluded that there was a “paucity of objectionable phrases among the British working classes.”  As proof  he related what happened after once dismissing a man in Calcutta for dishonesty.  “Early the next day the (dismissed) Indian strode up to my door brandishing a knife.  He obviously  intended to emphasise his point.  My staff would not grant him admission. So he sat down under my window  and  began cursing my entire genealogical tree right back to the first ancestor of my race.  Satisfied with his efforts,  he moved on to my anatomy, cursing  me from the hair on my head to the tips of my toes.  For three full hours he sat swearing  luridly. In all that time he never repeated a single curse nor phrase.”

Shortly afterwards, the professor returned to England and on a day, while travelling to London by Underground, shared a compartment with a party of workmen.  “They were displeased by  their foreman and  cursed him  loudly.  Their remarks were interspersed with the commonest of foul language.  They seemed to have only one prefered swear word which they constantly used.  Their efforts neither approached the fluent, easy expertise of the Indian,  nor matched his colourful turn of phrase. In retrospect I found I had to confess an admiration for him! ”

Mark Twain had this to say on the subject: “Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it will not be allowed. “


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