02 March 2013

Book Reviews

I don't actually get through many books these days. When I get to read — usually in bed — I usually find I need something lighter or shorter to read, or at least a book I can dip into at random; something to sample for amusement and interest. So reading a book from cover to cover is relatively are for me these days. This has never been helped by the fact that my natural reading speed is that of a snail, and have never properly mastered the art of speed reading. Given that my spelling is also fairly crummy I wonder if I may be, say, 10% dyslexic. Or, as my handwriting is also abysmal, maybe it is something to do with eye, brain and hand coordination.

Anyway I've decided that when I do finish a book, or have sampled a major part of one, I'll write a quick review note here. So we'll start with the book I finished a couple of days ago ...

Peter Silverton
Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing


Peter Silverton is a journalist who cut his hacking teeth on writing about punk music and interviewing the likes of the Sex Pistols. So he's in a good position to know something about foul language. He takes us on a journey through the development and use of the whole gamut of swearing: what the words are, what they actually mean, where they come from, when did they arrive and how has their meaning changed over time.

We're taken on various journeys. Not just that of language used on the street or in the pub; nor just that written (or more usually not written) in the papers, dictionaries and books, but right across the spectrum of language use including pop music, TV and radio.

Having said that the book is a bit of a mix. Some chapters approach the subject from the point of view of the content: sex, genitals, excretion, family relations, sexuality. But others approach it from the direction of the medium: music, newspapers, football etc. I found this split approach rather unnecessary and repetitive. Intertwined with this there are, however, some interesting diversions into the relationship of our swearwords with those of other languages.

Despite my interest in language I have to admit I found the book slightly tedious going. Yes, for someone interested in language, it was interesting in parts. But I found Silverton's style somewhat pedestrian, stodgy and very "same-y". I also wanted more detail; greater depth.

This is a book to interest the averagely intelligent reader, which is actually no bad thing. It is not a book for someone with a deep interest the English language and a thirst for esoteric knowledge.

Overall rating: ★★★☆☆

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