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Old Men ought to be Explorers

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10:26 am: Stie!

Many people have seen the fridge-magnet kit of Shakespearean Insults, which was born of the incomparable Insult Generator. The latter consisted of two columns of adjectives and one of nouns, a fine set of insults resulting from "thou" plus any permutation of the three, e.g. "thou crapulous bloated owl-molester!"

There are also fine books of insults: I have a pleasant one called the Insult & Curse Sticker Book, including W.C. Fields' memorable characterisation of Mae West: 'A plumber's idea of Cleopatra'. And now a Belgian, Michel Antaki, is trying, very reasonably, to persuade the UNESCO that insults and swear-words are a precious part of a people's cultural heritage.

This is particularly true of Québec, the only country I know where swearing is not theological ('J*s*s Chr*st!'), scatological ('Shit!') or sexual ('Fuck!'), but liturgical. Québeckers use as swear-words the ritual objects of the Mass: 'Tabarnacle!', 'Calice!', 'Ciboire!', and 'Hostie!' (In actual pronunciation, these become Tabarnac', Câoliss, Ciboère, and Stie!)

And now, a local producer, Sylvain Roy, has produced a documentary, appropriately called Stie!, predicting and lamenting the gradual extinction of these precious elements of the nation's heritage. He blames three factors.

In the first place: globalisation. When people spend their time watching TV and listening to rappers, they absorb another language.

Secondly, immigration. Immigrants in Québec learn French to get by, not out of cultural interest or assimilation. So they may learn a few swear-words, but it's less likely.

Thirdly, the decline in religious observance. Montréal is filled with gigantic churches and convents, now largely empty or converted; but I'm assured that before 1960 these were all full , whatever the actual opinions of those who filled them. Now a generation is growing up which no longer has the slightest idea what a ciboire or a calice is, and cares less.

So, say Roy and others, this precious heritage needs to be saved and protected. But how, stie?

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