Forget the Footnotes

Buggered, especially off

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Ever since I read the LSE’s official statement in The Guardian regarding my blog, I’ve been intrigued by what they meant by its ‘potentially defamatory’ content. Apparently there is supposed to be something in this blog that defames someone. It was never clear to me what this could have been. I now know. The magical sentence comes from the ‘talking to prospective students‘ entry. It reads:

the only reason they asked me [to give the Open Day speech] is that everyone reasonable already has buggered off on their respective Easter vacations.

This is what the LSE regards as ‘potentially defamatory’ and worthy of an investigation by a special committee. Interesting. The key word here is of course ‘buggered off.’ A tricky word to use, especially for us foreigners. According to The Free Dictionary:

bugger off, chiefly British slang, to leave someone alone; to go away; to run away.

Clearly the expression is informal and colloquial but it is not — in contrast to the same verb without the ‘off’ — considered as rude or in itself offensive. Not surprisingly the expression is common on the BBC. Compare for example Hugh Laurie in Blackadder:

Why, only the other day Prime Minister Pitt called me an idle scrounger. It wasn’t until ages later that I thought how clever it could have been to have said, “Oh bugger off, you old fart!”

What the LSE is objecting to is surely not the expression itself but instead the fact that it was used in reference to its staff. The implication is that members of the LSE faculty don’t ‘bugger off’ on vacation. Perhaps instead they ‘depart determinedly to their second homes in France’?

My crime, as always, is a lack of respect. I’m not treating people in authority with the respect they feel they deserve. Respect is a difficult thing to earn and, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t come with a job title. For example: convening a special committee to investigate the meaning of ‘buggered off’ might not be the best way to earn it.

Is this how low the threshold is for free speech at the LSE?

Wikipedia, as always, has an interesting article:

Bugger is an expletive used in vernacular British English, Australian English, New Zealand English and Sri Lankan English. When used in context it still retains its original meaning, implying sodomy. However it is now more generally used to imply dissatisfaction (bugger, I’ve missed the bus [i.e. Shit!, I’ve missed the bus], also cf. Unlucky Alf, a character in The Fast Show, who says ‘bugger’ every time something happens to him) or used to describe someone whose behaviour is in some way displeasing (the bugger has given me the wrong change). The word is also used amongst friends in an affectionate way (you old bugger) and is used as a noun in Welsh English vernacular to imply that one is very fond of something (I’m a bugger for Welsh cakes). It can also imply a negative tendency (He’s a bugger for losing his keys) [i.e He loses his keys often]. A colloquial phrase in the north of England to denote an unexpected (and possibly unwanted) occurrence is “Bugger me, here’s my bus”. The word is generally used in place of a more serious expletive.

The phrase bugger off means to run away; when used as a command it means “go away” [”piss off”] or “leave me alone”, which is generally considered one of the more offensive usage contexts. Bugger all means “Nothing”. The Bugger Factor is another phrase to describe the phenomenon of Sod’s Law or Murphy’s Law.

It is famously alleged that the last words of King George V were “bugger Bognor“, in response to a suggestion that he might recover from his illness and visit Bognor Regis.

As with most other expletives its continued use has reduced its shock value and offensiveness, to the extent the Toyota car company in Australia and New Zealand ran a popular series of advertisements where “Bugger!” was the only spoken word. The term is generally not used in the United States, but it is recognised, although inoffensive there. It is also used in Canada more frequently than in the United States but with less stigma than in other parts of the world.

The word is derived from the French word Boulgre, derived from “Bulgarian” (meaning the Bogomils of Bulgaria), who Catholic propagandists said were practicing ‘buggery‘. Writings by Puritan authors such as Cotton Mather refer to “buggery” when talking about bestiality among their congregations.

In Victorian and Edwardian England, bugger was often used as an identity label; for example, “a bugger”, meaning an active homosexual.


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