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Saturday, May 29, 2010

FILTHY ENGLISH by Pete Silverton

What an utterly marvellous book this is.

Right, now I’ve established that, I have some personal connections to fess up to – but first, a warning: this book is about swearing, so this review is going to contain some VERY RUDE WORDS.

So if you have a problem with that, don’t read on.

Fuck shit cunt tits arsehole motherfucker piss. OK?

Confession, the First: The author is an old colleague of mine.
I first met Pete Silverton when I went to work as a commissioning editor on You magazine in the mid-1980s. In those days it wasn’t a women’s interest title as now, but something more wide-ranging, with a strong emphasis on fabulous writing.

(That was also where I worked for the greatest editor of my career, the late-lamented, wonderful John Leese, who died far too young. I still miss him.)

Pete was one of the magazine’s team of crack freelance writers and I got to commission some great things from him. It was always a joy as his copy would flow in, on time, very funny and not needing a word changed.

So although we never became close friends (we didn’t go to each other’s houses, which is my personal definition of that) we do go back a bit. Like 25 years. And I always liked him.

Second Confession: I am quoted in this book.
Pete contacted me out of the blue last year and asked if he could interview me for it. It was around the time In Bed With was coming out – the collection of sex stories written by leading women novelists, which I co-edited with Jessica Adams (it was her idea), Imogen Edwards-Jones and Kathy Lette.

Not surprisingly, considering the brief – ‘write a short story of an explicitly sexual nature, really really filthy’ - that book contains a lot of cunts, fucks, tits, cocks etc. and Pete reckoned I would have some insight into how women feel about the use of those words, most particularly: cunt.

I don’t know about insight, but I certainly have a lot of opinions about it.

Which leads me to..

Confession Three: Next month Pete and I are appearing as part of the Women’s Word festival at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, to discuss this issue. The session is billed: ‘What do you call yours?’.

If any of you can come along, it would be absolutely great to see you. Here’s a link to the festival, which has a lot of other great events at it too (but obviously, this is the one you should come to ha ha ha).

Now I’ve got all that out of the way (will five Hail Marys be enough?), back to the book. To partially quote the author: it’s absofuckinglutely great.

Among many other bit of fascinating linguistic ephemera, he tells you that the particular style of word structure is called ‘infixing’. It’s common in Eskimo and Tagalog, but rare in English.

Pete then makes the point that to use the word ‘fuck’ in that way – a word that in itself describes an insertion – adds another whole layer of power to it.

He looks at swear words at this micro linguistic level, but also in their widest global, historical, cultural and sociological contexts. Not forgetting psychoanalytical, of course.

What I particularly love about it, is that he manages to convey all that information – some of it, academic to a degree of quite bonkers intensity – with the same lightness of touch he brought to his articles for You magazine.

The book is very funny. The writing very witty. And the tone very personal, because he manages to lay all the info ‘n’ facts down on a bed of personal memoir, which in Pete’s case is well worth reading.

He started his career as a rock writer, going on tour with the Sex Pistols among many other highlights. I particularly enjoyed a scene where he remembers time spent with the late Tony Wilson, of Factory Records/Joy Division fame.

He earns his place in the book, because the term ‘wanker’ became applied to him to such a degree, that he couldn’t walk through is home town of Manchester without it being shouted at him – and seeing it graffitied all over walls.

For someone like me, who always approaches non-fiction with some trepidation – I had to read so much of it at college, I’m slightly, pathetically phobic now about anything that doesn’t have a story – this provides the perfect sweet medium to relish absorbing all the other stuff.

So Pete, my old mucker, I salute you. You’re a clever cunt. And a funny fucker.

Reading satisfaction: 8
Un-put-downable-ness: 6
Recommend to best girlfriend: 8
Recommend to mother: 0
Recommend to niece: 8
Recommend to gay best friend: 8
Recommend to man pal: 9
Recommend to Helen Razer: 10
Read on public transport: 9

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