Monday, October 31, 2005

Profanity on the Bounty

Swearing and cursing is one of those human activities that has no direct counterpart in the wild. Animals do make vocalised threats, it’s true, but always with the aim of warning off intruders. Statements of the kind “you are a cunt” are not used because they would serve no purpose. Telling a lion that he is a foul-breathed fucker may be accurate enough, but it would not hurt his feelings or cause him to change his immediate plans. In fact, it would be a complete waste of an insult.

For humans, of course, swearing serves various social functions, one of which is to relieve the feelings of the swearer. But this catharsis often comes at a high price. Consider the case of William Bligh of the Royal Navy. He ought to be remembered as a skilful navigator and fearless commander, mentioned in dispatches by Nelson for his bravery at the Battle of Copenhagen. Instead, he is famous for a tawdry soap opera enacted in the South Pacific that resulted in the loss of his ship to an upper class fop named Fletcher Christian. And it all happened because of Bligh’s habit of swearing.

Let it be said straight away that Bligh never called anyone a cunt. His preferred epithets were: “infernal scoundrel”, “contemptible thief”, “incompetent mongrel” and “cowardly rascal”, which in modern English would pass for measured and even affectionate rebukes. But this was not so in the late 18th century. Most unwisely of all, he would apply these descriptions to his fellow officers in front of the whole ship’s company, yet a short while later behave as if nothing had happened. Were one to write a book on human social conventions, this sort of thing would come high on the list of faux pas.

Yet thanks to the deeply ingrained discipline of British seamen, Bligh might have got away with his cursing had it not been for the events that occurred in Tahiti. As every film buff knows, the crew of the Bounty had an extended period of shore leave on that tropical island, where the native women were eager to offer them a full repertoire of carnal pleasures. Mr Christian was one who indulged himself to the utmost, and he may have been vain enough to believe some of the flattery that women employ on such occasions to maintain the stamina of their stud. Certainly, a man who has got used to remarks such as “Fletcher big white dick make Tahiti girl happy” is going to place service to King and Country lower down on his list of priorities.

This period of indolence and debauchery meant that the crew of the Bounty were in no fit mental state to resume their duties when the ship eventually set sail, far less accept the insults of the ship’s captain with British stoicism and restraint. So when Bligh called Christian “a coward” over some trivial incident, he was promptly cast adrift on a small boat, which he nonetheless brilliantly navigated to Timor.

Bligh was not a bad man by any means and his use of the cat ‘o nine tails was sparing by the standards of the day. But his cursing became so habitual that he lost all sense of the offence he was causing his colleagues. Perhaps there is a warning for bloggers here. Could they become so accustomed to the use of swear words in a humorous context that they forget the powerful effect of these phrases and expressions outside the community of their readers? I have a vision of a solitary
bearded man in a lifeboat, desperately reading the vessel’s manual while receding into the wake of an ocean liner, whose stony-faced skipper is on the bridge, muttering about the riff-raff that can afford to go on cruises these days.

Confound your impertinence, you scoundrel of an ape, sir.
I take it from this, that you believe yourself to be the “cunt” to whom Harry Hutton was referring? You’ve got to toughen up. Go on an Outward Bound, you’d love it.

Staying nautical, in rope work there is the cunt-splice, so named because when finished, it looks like a lady’s vaj - if you shut one eye.
Oh NOW I get it.
Why not just tell the cunt to stop fucking swearing?
You're too clever on a Monday for me. Some of us drink at the weekend.
I hope you're not suggesting that women should not talk dirty in bed, GB. That sort of thing has kept the spark alive in many marriages, including my own.
Dr Maroon,

It was actually 'Hell is other people' who was most deservedly called a cunt by Harry. He had implied that Harry had invented his Chinese girlfriend to prove he was a tolerant, non-gay type of person. But I think Harry called someone else a cunt who didn't deserve it. Not me. And telling El B to stop swearing really would be like asking him to chop off his testicles. I was just warning him not to swear at the master of the vessel when travelling by sea.


Does your mate use any especially imaginative or unusual words that
you could tell us about? They must be pretty good ones to keep the steam coming out of your nostrils, you oversexed buffalo.
Noting unusual, GB. The same sort of stuff you must have heard a million times on all those porn clips you download. It's interesting how the same words that sound so ugly coming from a yobbo can sound so good from an aroused woman.
As usual, our friend Tarzan can be trusted to elevate the discussion to a higher plane. I had thought readers would be interested in whether Bligh really was a misunderstood figure unfairly treated by the film industry. He doesn't sound so bad to me, although I admit that no one has ever called me an 'incompetent mongrel'.
Harry's girlfriend from China.
That's right I remember, and you said a few racist things or, that was it, things that weren't but were construed so to be. And Mynah Bird said we were naked apes and I took exception. Brrrr! testing times, I for one wouldn't want to return to them, but MB was wrong!
Yes we've had our ups and downs, Doctor, but we got through it all without the slap of the glove on the face followed by pistols at dawn, although I still reserve my rights concerning Lord Angus Fartwell if he ever dares to show his face round here again. But as you say, let bygones be bygones and we'll sing auld lang syne.
Sir,due to my lack of education and
poor vocabulary,I hearby reserve the right to use foul,abusive and
offensive language as and when I see fit.Furthermore I refuse to be
lectured at by a hairy bollocks of
an ape.
Hairy bollocks are like having your own built-in egg cosy. Much more comfortable than underpants.
Yes, but hairy bollocks and underpants are like keeping your eggs in two baskets.

Simply prudence, in these chilly northern climes.
Not having any relations with the participants of this particular quarrel with the exception of yourselves and a drawing of what appears to be a drunken weevil I made on a napkin (he has proved to be a formidable and staunch allie of yours, Gorilla) I will only address the content of the post, not the meaning.

While it is not possible for an animal to swear, as far as I know (although Chimps and Bonabos will razberry, stick out tongues, and perform other acts of apparently sincere mockery) it is very possible for some animals to feel shame and embarassment. Since verbal abuse it intended to create the same effect, then perhaps the animal equivalent to a good tongue lashing would be a suitably cruel practical joke.

Like beheading.
Beheading is a human joke, SafeT. Wild animals tend to prefer the neck bite.
I thought vampires preferred the neck bite, GB?
They copied that from us, Lindy.
Those cheating bastards... I should've known... I'd tell you to bite them back, but that doesn't always work!
An enterprising gorilla with some vines, chipped shale and some spit could rig a nifty decapitational dead-fall.
Won't they be embarassed looking up at their own asses!
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