Swears, Bears and Mother-in-laws: Forbidden Words
Everyone is familiar with some words that are generally avoided in polite conversation. Modern readers of the Harry Potter novels know who is referred to as ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ just as readers of the Hebrew Bible understand the representation of the name of God through four letters which cannot be spoken. What can and can’t be said varies across time and place: to the Victorians ‘trousers’ were ‘unmentionables’.
In this talk for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas James Clackson, Professor of Comparative Philology, will show how processes of linguistic taboo work across different societies, and how they change over time. He will demonstrate how some of our current English vocabulary reflects our ancestors’ avoidances of unspeakable words.
This talk will contain examples of obscene, offensive and controversial English vocabulary. It is accessible to adults and children in Year 7 and above.
Tickets for members of the general public will be available from 11am on Monday 23 September.