Filthy English by Peter Silverton (2 stars)

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Filthy English by Peter Silverton

Swearing is a universal phenomenon. The delivery, meaning, intent and pitch may vary – some might mouth a silent ‘fiddlesticks’ while others erupt with a string of expletives so incomprehensible it’s difficult to discern the exact meaning – but we all do it to a greater or lesser extent.

This is the subject of Peter Silverton’s Filthy English, subtitled ‘The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing’. From the figurative communion wafers Spaniards hurl at each other, the Yugoslavian ‘march on your mother’s Chinese cunt’ and Yapese ‘you have no foreskin’, to the many flavours, colours and textures of genitalia, Silverton investigates the ways people find to insult each other.

It’s an exhaustive piece of research that, as a textbook of linguistic and cultural curios works well. What it lacks is humour. It could have been an entertaining romp through the break from social niceties that swearing represents, but instead is more a repetitive tome of infinitesimal detail.

(Portobello)

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