Friday, 3 June 2005

Telling it like it is

coprolalia, n. Cursing, uttering obscenities, the explosive utterance of swearwords or more elaborate sexual, aggressive or insulting statements (e.g. racial slurs). It is neither intentional nor purposeful, and is not necessarily directed towards anyone. Coprolalia is considered a complex vocal tic and is undoubtedly the most striking, socially distressing, and dramatic symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Contrary to popular perceptions, the majority of Tourette’s syndrome patients never exhibit this symptom; it occurs in as few as 5-15% of patients.”

It must indeed be socially distressing, both for the person who exhibits it and for his or her relatives and friends; it is cause for sympathy and certainly no laughing matter. That having been said, I don’t think there is any reason why I shouldn't recount an incident which gave me much pleasure; those involved (apart from me) are long since dead.

Near the factory where I worked there was a block of flats, and a middle-aged woman would often lean out of an upper window and shout mildly obscene insults at passers-by; there seemed little harm in this, and most of her targets would give her a cheery wave and carry on walking past.

One day I was passing the flats with my boss, whose name was Joe, and for once she was not at her window but following us in the street. She overtook us and when she was a dozen paces ahead she stopped, turned round, looked Joe straight in the eye and said, “You soppy-lookin’ ole bugger!”.

There was nothing at all menacing about her, and Joe was only slightly taken aback. This was in the days when most men wore hats, so he politely raised his and we all walked on.

The point of the story, of course, is that her comment, though uncalled-for, was a perfectly fair one; Joe was a very able General Manager, a scratch golfer and no doubt a much-loved husband and father, but there was no getting away from it: he was a soppy-lookin' ole bugger.

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