People communicate in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. Choice of words, who is saying them, and what listeners may or may not be prepared to accept varies depending on a number of conditions.
Recently, Miriam González Durántez demonstrated her strong communication style by referring to fathers who look after their children as men who have more ‘cojones’, the Spanish slang for testicles. This certainly drew attention to her comments – made even more emphatic by interrupting her husband, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Nick Clegg. But what was the audience’s reaction to her comment generally and what is it about the use of the word cojones to an audience that may not have expected it or perhaps did not know that meaning of the word other than through inference?
Appropriateness of Language
The Guardian reflects on these issues in their article covering the event. Focussing on the topic of men’s responsibilities for the care of their own children and how that it may traditionally have reflected negatively on a man’s ‘manliness’. Thus, the use of the word cojones, given the topic, the reference to an important part of the anatomy for parents, and the nationality of the speaker could be seen as doubly or even multiply clever. It certainly got the audience’s attention.
However, González Durántez may also be seen as an honorary (but perhaps not in the inner circle) member of the British political establishment who chose to use a word derived from her mother tongue. Did that give her more leeway than someone else who may have also chosen to use a highly colourful word or to use obscure language in a similar context?
Two other examples within the undisputed British Establishment shed further light on language use. Mayor of London Boris Johnson, one of the UK’s more eccentric figures, is generally tolerated and often admired when he breaks out in Latin or ancient Greek, often to insult a fellow politician. He has also used very descriptive language live on the BBC, ironically including the use of an alternative, popular British word for cojones. For the most part, people from a wide range of the political spectrum usually regard Boris with amusement when he is on form linguistically.
On the other hand, Prince Philip’s verbal gaffes, at least in recent years, are much less well received amongst many segments of the British population, especially when he chooses politically incorrect terms which may also especially offend many British people whose heritage can be traced back to former colonies. Rather than being seen as clever, this language style is seen more as a throwback to a less enlightened time.
Perhaps politically incorrect language, unlike the clever use of a well placed crude word has now become more acceptable, at least amongst the establishment?
Language is Evolving
Like most everything in life, language evolves. This includes the acceptability of language that at a previous point in time would have been considered inappropriate as well as the opposite, where previously frowned upon words have found their way into polite society or general public acceptance. Finally, with the continuation of globalisation, it is probably inevitable that occasionally, a well chosen word borrowed from a foreign language may be especially effective, especially when used cleverly.