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Heroes of Slang 1: John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

 ‘Rouse stately Tarse

And the lett thy Bollocks grind

Heave up, faire Arse,

And lett thy Cunt be kind

To th’ Deed.

Thrust Pintle with a force,

Spend till my Cunt overflow.’

‘ffuckadilla’s Song’ from Sodom (1684)

 

 

John Wilmot (1647-80), second earl of Rochester, was a member of the circle of fast-living wits and courtiers at the court of Charles II. Son of a Cavalier hero and a staunchly Puritan mother, and born some might have said fittingly on All Fools’ Day, he was educated as a typical contemporary aristocrat. Wadham College, Oxford, which he entered at the age of 12, preceded the Grand Tour, which in turn was followed by introduction at Court. Aged 18, after fighting sea battles against the Dutch, he abducted and married the heiress Elizabeth Malet. During one of his almost annual banishments from court, caused by a penchant for pushing the royal patience too far, he allegedly set up on Tower Hill as ‘Alexander Bendo,’ a self-styled ‘German astrologer’, offering gullible clients ‘rare secrets … for help, conservation, and augmentation of beauty.’

 

Rochester’s wit and erudition were paraded in his poetry, which has been cited by critics as setting him among the last of the Metaphysical poets and the first of the Augustans. He died young, and thus his output, in which he was happy to savage his own failings as acutely as those of others, was small, but it was varied and highly influential. Dryden, whose patron he briefly was, Swift and Pope were all influenced by him. For many people his subsequent reputation rests particularly on his lampoons, satires and erotic writings. He wrote, according to the Oxford Companion to English Literature, ‘more frankly about sex than anyone in English before the 20th century.’

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The Heroes of Slang: A Short Introduction

 

In an attempt to add a third dimension to the lexicon (beyond, that is, the predictable team of ‘here’s a word or phrase’ and ‘here’s what it means’), GDoS is proposing a new series, lexico-biographies as it were: The Heroes of Slang. The bibliography behind this website is moving towards 10,000 sources; there is no chance, nor wish to cover them all (see here for a timeline of the most prolific). But the Heroes of Slang will be just that: a week-by-week go-round of those who have done most to bring slang into the limelight, whether creators, exploiters or collectors. The aim is to offer some back-story, some biography and a range of the slang that’s associated with their work. We can’t, again, look at everything — Irving Welsh, for instance, is cited for 1,400 terms — but these posts will show the flavour of each artist through the best of the slang they use.

 

The series will begin next week, with the ‘profane and lewd writings’ of Lord Rochester, a dissolute aristocrat and ‘one of the wittiest poets’ of the late 17th century who, to quote the Oxford Companion to English Literature, wrote ‘more frankly about sex than anyone in English before the 20th century.’ Slang’s version of lit. crit. is a little more focused: he offers some 200 early terms; and a good two-thirds of them referenced aspects of what in a very rare example of euphemism, he termed et-caetera

 

But first, a brief introduction.

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Election Special: Vote Early Vote Often

Party Boss

Nearly there. Two weeks left at time of writing and nowhere to go but down. Will that put an end to maunderings from across the pond? Probably not. Anyway, we Brits have plenty of local euro stuff to ponder over the ditch. We shall see.

Before slang there was quotations, Dictionaries of. Among them Last Words, the Royals, Sport, Cynics and Politics. Plenty of opinion there, plenty of bons mots and wit, but the problem with quotes is that ultimately they’re no more than a single opinion, however amusing. Not that far removed, too often not at all removed from the little texts we’ll be seeing in our Christmas crackers. Slang is something else, even if the citations that help define the headwords are rarely quotable. H.L. Mencken may have seen democracy as ‘the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard’ and we may laugh along with the old curmudgeon, but slang’s examples don’t work that way. What they do, so much more important, is paint the wider scene: the way that ‘we,’ in this case anglophone slang speakers, view a given topic. That said, slang doesn’t really do politics. Nor politicians. Not, at any rate, on the same level as those old favourites: sex, drugs and, at least figuratively, rock ’n’ roll. I won’t be offering any timelines soon. If we ask slang for its response, it’s simple: we are not impressed.

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