Top critical review
24 people found this helpful
on 19 April 2012
As someone who is fascinated by language in general, and certainly partial to the odd choice expression, this was a book I approached with great anticipation. The opening lines (available to view as a preview) promised a personal and witty account of the author's journey through the subject matter, and I was primed to suck up interesting insight into the history and etymology of our more colourful phrases. Unfortunately, though, I was disappointed on both counts.
With no particular structure or overall narrative, the book at times seems to simply comprise long lists of the various insults and curses used around the world. In common with many English schoolchildren, I have in my life spent time looking up swear words in a French dictionary. This does not, however, mean I wish to read a whole book about it.
To break up the monotony, the author sprinkles in liberal doses of what are presumably meant to be light-hearted anecdotes and witty reflections on a serious subject. Ranging from the inane (the time he used a Canadian French word that was ruder than he'd realised), through the self important (realising that the gap in literacy between himself and the poor working class black girls he was teaching was simply insurmountable, and that they'd never pull themselves out of their current situations), to the downright irrelevant (how his wife's grandfather played a role in the creation of the state of Israel), these in fact read as an expression of how interesting he thinks he is. Perhaps I missed something, but I wasn't exactly gripped.
Each chapter starts with an "interesting" aside on some period of the author's life (most of which include a frankly impressive number of name-drops), and each drags on at the same turgid pace. By the time I reached what could have been a very interesting discussion on the changing face of taboo - how racial slurs common 30 years ago are now unthinkable, while the opposite is true of traditionally vulgar sexual terms - any enthusiasm I may have started with was sorely diminished.
I had great hopes for this book when I bought it - now I'm just glad to have finished. Disappointed.