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.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today