Ooooh bandits, awfae nadgers

10th August 2001 at 01:00
MY six-year-old son was playing Chinese Chequers with his mum the other day. At one point she blocked a manoeuvre he had been lining up. "Oh ya bugger!" he said softly. It was explained gently to him that this was a word that many people did not like to hear. More important, this was explained without anyone bursting out laughing.

When I was at university, my hall of residence contained a loud, friendly Californian called Eric. A typical Eric anecdote was the one about the psychology class where the lecturer said to his students: "I put it to you that a good bowel movement is every bit as satisfying as sexual intercourse."

"Well," drawled a voice from the back of the room, "either you know nothing about f***ing or I know nothing about sh***ing."

Eric's everyday speech was fairly post-watershed, too. Naturally, what California did 20 years ago, the UK does now. Just watch any Channel 4 (the thinking man's Channel 5) drama for proof.

How then does the new teacher suppress the habit of punctuating conversation with sweary-words? As a physicist, I think I can be of some help here. For years I have been subjected to unexpected static shocks, burns from Bunsens and facetious comments from English teachers in situations where the use of profane language would be inappropriate. I have two techniques that work with varying degrees of success. Most effective is prefacing every outburst with "Ooooooh ya".

This is a bit like the Thinking Distance on the back of the Highway Code and allows me time to mentally reach for an acceptable follow-on. "Bandit" is a favourite. Strategy two, adopting one's own made-up cuss words, has its drawbacks. My son now thinks curtain hoops are called "nadgers" because that's what I said when 10 of them slid off the pole I was putting up.

I think the word came from Kenneth Williams as folk singer Rambling Sid Rumpo in Round the Horne. The problem with "nadgers" is that it sounds so like a rude word that you might as well say a rude word - indeed it has almost reached mainstream rude-wordness.

Does my suppression matter when my pupils know the rude words and use them themselves to varying degrees? I think it does. It's a matter of ethos and atmosphere and I would no sooner stand in front of a class cursing than I would teach wearing trousers with the erse hanging out of them.

"Twee, middle-class, hypocritical? **** that ****, man," as Eric would have said.

Gregor Steele has a friend whose father used "Bayne and Duckett" as an oath.

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