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The Littlehampton LibelsA Miscarriage of Justice and a Mystery about Words in 1920s England$
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Christopher Hilliard

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198799658

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198799658.001.0001

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Bad Language

Bad Language

(p.133) 9 Bad Language
The Littlehampton Libels

Christopher Hilliard

Oxford University Press

This chapter is a complement to chapter five. Where chapter five examined handwriting as a site of the social and the individual, this chapter deals with vocabularies in a similar context. It focuses in particular on the nature of the swearing in the libels, a substantial sample of which are reproduced and discussed in this chapter. Swan’s obscenities were creative in a childish way, reflecting the fact that, as a respectable single woman, she was excluded from the kinds of places where people learned to swear proficiently. Her profanity was ‘bad language’ not just in the ordinary sense, but also in the allusive sense used by the ethnographic historian Greg Dening: a failure to master the codes of a specific social setting.

Keywords:   language, literacy, vocabulary, swearing, profanity, autodidact, respectability, community study

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