Bozimacoo (Or T-word, N-word part 2)

29 Nov

You don’t hear the word ‘bozimacoo’ very often these days.

It derives from the Middle Ages when the church tried to levy a fine on the use of foul language. Obviously the church had to draw up a list of offending terms that would incur the fine and this, naturally enough led to people making up new imprecations that they could use without being charged for the privilege. There were a number of these terms, but bozimacoo is the only one I can remember (It was quite a long time ago, after all).

I’ve always admired Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I think it’s a dark and brilliant novella and it’s well worth reading. My only real problem with it is the repeated use of the word ‘nigger’.

Heart of Darkness is written as a first person narrative and the context indicates that the term is not being used as an intentional expression of abuse, it’s just a word that’s used to refer to Africans.

There is a similar, apparently quite casual, use of the word in Earnest Hemingway’s Fiesta, also known as The Sun Also Rises. (Another novella that’s well worth reading).

My problem in reading these books is that every time I come across this particular word in the text, it jars a little. (I suspect that if I wasn’t white it would do more than jar a little).

So it would seem that the word ‘nigger’ has acquired a power over the years to the extent that, if you put it into a sentence, there’s a very real risk that it’s the only word that will come across and the rest of the sentence will go unnoticed. (Or maybe all it really means is that white people, like me, are finally starting to see quite how offensive the term always was to people of other races).

The ideal, of course, is for our various terms of abuse to fall into the same impotence, obscurity and redundancy as bozimacoo, but I don’t see that happening for a while.

There are times, however, when the power that some words have over us can be a positive thing. Some years ago I was reading about a nurse who had served in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Vietnam during the war. (You can read more about this in a book called Nam by Mark Baker ISBN 0-349-10239-2. It’s a collection of accounts by various American veterans of their experiences in the Vietnam War).

Cleary the people serving in these MASH units would have been exhausted and many of them would have used alcohol, amongst other things, to help them cope. So when this nurse needed to summon a doctor in order to attend to a medical emergency on the ward, she found that it was difficult to get them to respond quickly.

What she learned to do was to tell the doctor that he had to come quickly because his patient was ‘fucked up’. Somehow this expression cut through the haze and got an immediate response where correct medical terminology did not.

So we can conclude that while no one ever died of the word ‘fuck’ some lives have certainly been saved by it.

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