Taboo Words: Would You Dare to Say "Gleech"?

Article excerpt

I wonder if John Lydon, who used a forbidden word (the editor will not allow me to be more precise) on live television in I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, is a fan of Ian McEwan? In McEwan's novel Atonement, a young girl reads that word in a letter and, although she has never seen or heard it before, she knows immediately what it means. She can tell by the shape of the letters--the hollows in the "c", the "u" and the "n". This is a nice theory, and one that would at least partly stand up if you were reading the book in Basque, Hungarian or Yiddish--where the forbidden word translates into zulo, pina and pierick respectively. But the theory falls down in, for example, German (Fotze), where the word could be assumed by a young girl to refer to the belly button.

I once had a lecturer who muddled the letters in King Cnut during her Anglo-Saxon literature classes, which livened up a rather dull hour about kennings and Old Norse. …