Friday, January 18, 2013

Defoe Wishes for a More Civil Discourse

Swearing, that lewdness of the tongue, that scum and excrement of the mouth, is of all vices the most foolish and senseless. It makes a man's conversation unpleasant, his discourse fruitless, and his language nonsense.

It makes conversation unpleasant, at least to those who do not use the same foolish way of discourse, and, indeed, is an affront to all the company who swear not as he does; for if I swear and curse in company I either presume all the company likes it or affront them who do not.

Then it is fruitless; for no man is believed a jot the more for all the asseverations, damnings, and swearings he makes. Those who are used to it themselves do not believe a man the more because they know they are so customary that they signify little to bind a man's intention, and they who practise them not have so mean an opinion of those that do as makes them think they deserve no belief.

Then, they are the spoilers and destroyers of a man's discourse, and turn it into perfect nonsense; and to make it out I must descend a little to particulars, and desire the reader a little to foul his mouth with the brutish, sordid, senseless expressions which some gentlemen call polite English, and speaking with a grace.

Some part of them indeed, though they are foolish enough, as effects of a mad, inconsiderate rage, are yet English; as when a man swears he will do this or, that, and it may be adds, "God damn him he will;" that is, "God damn him if he don't." This, though it be horrid in another sense, yet may be read in writing, and is English: but what language is this?

"Jack, God damn me, Jack, how dost do? How hast thou done this long time, by God?"--And then they kiss; and the other, as lewd as himself, goes on:-

"Dear Tom, I am glad to see thee with all my heart, let me die. Come, let us go take a bottle, we must not part so; pr'ythee let's go and be drunk by God."--

This is some of our new florid language, and the graces and delicacies of style, which if it were put into Latin, I would fain know which is the principal verb. ... [H]ow little it becomes a gentleman to debauch hjis mouth with foul language...
 Daniel Defoe, An Essay Upon Projects (Of Academies) (1697)

1 comment:

Ebenezer Scrooge said...


"“When it comes down to pure ornamental cursing, the native American is gifted above the sons of men.”