I watch my children grow up as Americans in the same way that I might read about, or create, fictional characters. They are not fictional, of course, but their Americanism can sometimes seem unreal to me. ‘I have an American seventh-grader,’ I say to myself with amazement, as I watch my 12-year-old daughter perform at one of those dastardly school events always held in gymnasiums. Doubtless, amazement attends all the stages of a child’s growth – all is unexpected. But there is also that strange distance, the light veil of alienation thrown over everything.
"No still photograph was capable of describing it. Even television images failed to encompass the panoramic quality of the disaster, the sense within the plain of destruction, of being surrounded by it on all sides. In describing the landscapes of war, we often speak of ‘total’ devastation. But even the most intense aerial bombing leaves walls and foundations of burned-out buildings, as well as parks and woods, roads and tracks, fields and cemeteries. The tsunami spared nothing, and achieved feats of surreal juxtaposition that no mere explosion could match. It plucked forests up by their roots and scattered them miles inland. It peeled the macadam off the roads and cast it hither and thither in buckled ribbons. It stripped houses to their foundations, and lifted cars, lorries, ships and corpses onto the tops of tall buildings." — Richard Lloyd Parry
In one of his last columns, published in March 1966, Flann O’Brien looked back on his catechism, compiled more than twenty years earlier, and described it as ‘an exegetic survey of the English language in its extremity of logo-daedalate poliomyelitis, anaemic prostration and the paralysis of incoherence.’ One month after writing that, he was dead, and yet within a year a remarkable renaissance was taking place, with the long-delayed publication of his great comic fantasy The Third Policeman and, soon afterwards, the first of many anthologies of the ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ columns, this one entitled The Best of Myles.
The late 18th-century use of the word ‘huffle’ in the sense ‘perform fellatio’, for instance, was new to me, and indeed to the OED, which limply presents it as meaning only ‘to blow, or inflate’.
As Geoffrey Hughes noted in his excellent Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, the more charged a swear word is the more susceptible it becomes to grammatical transformation. This means that the boundaries between nouns and adjectives and adverbs can all get completely fucked up by swear words, and before you know it the little fuckers are everywhere.
One thing Robin never dared say, bless his little golden rayon cape, was ‘Holy Shit’, the uttering of which would certainly have KAPOWED him right off prime-time TV in those tender-eared days.