“You know…”

People say the funniest things, we say stupid things, and we say things we are not even aware of. We say this stuff most of the time, and we do so while bypassing our brains. 

The English language has a vocabulary containing more words than the grains of sand on a beach, more than there are stars in the milky way and just enough to keep a hen party in talk for a whole wine soaked weekend. And if we should run out of words, we just make them up. Additions to the Oxford dictionary in 2019 include ‘whatevs’, ‘chillax’ and ‘freegan’. The Cornish, especially in Tolskithy, make up words as often as the wind changes direction. And its amazing what you can do with ‘tre’ ‘pol’ and ‘pen’ and the odd ’s’ovvun’. Denzil Penberthy and ‘Boy’ Trevaskis (who is eighty if he is a day) make shit up all of the time and even they have no idea what they’ve just said. And now, the UK has a Prime Minister who does this live on air, but in latin and without the slightest hint of embarrassment or self knowledge. He has given the street lexicographers of Millwall, Motherwell and Mousehole the opportunity to refashion Anglo Saxon epithets into glorious new combinations of the C and F word. But, sometimes only the simple C word will do. 

Words have a literal meaning, as in ‘leave my pasty alone or I’ll literally kill you’. If you hear this in Camborne, rest assured it literally means you will be actually killed should you so much as sniff the gravy infused steam from someone else’s newly cut pasty. In Hartlepool, this phrase would be taken as a joke, as good natured banter, but mention ‘monkey hanging’ and you will find out they literally hanged a monkey thinking it was a French spy during the Napoleonic wars.  Monkeys to this day are afraid to set paw in the North East. Baboons however are quite happy to show off their red arses everywhere.

 A bit like a mate of mine after a few bevvies in the back bar of Tyacks in Camborne. 

Words also mean whatever you want them to mean, nothing more, nothing less. Wittgenstein, the philosopher, argued language is not a fixed structure imposed upon the world by us. Important men like to think they define what words mean. That is clearly bollocks as my use of the word ‘bollocks’ just then, clearly shows. Words do not represent something real in the world. Take the word ‘dog’, without a context it is meaningless. Words and their meaning are intimately bound up with our everyday practices such as when drinking spingo, Brazilian waxing and dogging. Wittgenstein argued that creating meaningful statements is a matter of using conventionally defined words within ‘language games’ that we play out in the course of everyday life. ‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, Wittgenstein claimed. It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it, and the context in which you say it. Words are how you use them.

The word ‘Spingo’ means nothing until you walk into the bar of the Blue Anchor in Helston. To the uneducated redneck in Texas it could mean a cross between a ‘spick and a gringo’ rather than a pint of amber ale that transports one to heaven and a packet of pork scratchings. Young ladies who could not point to Rio on a map are otherwise happy to metaphorically visit South America in an unending quest for the perfectly shiny vulva. I’ve no idea what ‘dogging’ means as I have never been to the lay by just off the A39 outside of Truro after dark. 

So, words are very often used in a way to mean the opposite, or something totally unrelated to what the dictionary definition says they mean. The British are excellent at this. In fact, we go out of our way to do precisely this. It’s why we love euphemism, understatement and the passive voice. We don’t get ‘intoxicated’; we get ‘ring bolted’, ‘pissed’ or ‘shitfaced’. If you have ever seen a ring bolt, the resemblance to one’s antics at a party are hard to see. The word ‘ring’ is dangerously fraught with meaning and perhaps that is why we use that phrase in the context of drunken reverie. ‘Kissing the Ring’ means something very different in the Vatican than it does in the back bar of the Tyacks in Camborne after midnight on Saturday. Just ask my mate. ‘Pissed’?  Well, at least that has a passing reference to what happens when one loses bladder control after ten pints of Guinness, six shots of tequila and a Doner kebab, but it by no means literally describes the behaviour of wedding guests at the evening ’piss up’. The bride does not literally squat on the dance floor, haul her dress around her waist while aiming unsuccessfully at a poorly placed and obviously inadequately sized container, do they (you know who you are)?

As for ‘shitfaced’, apart from a particular raucous evening in Magaluf involving several bottles of cheap white wine, a  gone off oyster and dysentery, the absence of excrement is usually one of the unspoken ambitions for the well oiled evening’s shenanigans. 

Men in drinking and sports groups like to use words in an ironic manner indicating the very opposite of the literal meaning. Here, and excuse me ladies, the use of the C word comes in very handy. It serves as simile, adverb, verb, noun, pronoun and adjective often in the same sentence. The F word does similarly sterling work in this regard. Context is everything, absolutely everything, and foreigners often get it wrong no matter how well they speak the language. Putting your arm around an old uncle who was once in the Royal Navy and knows his way around a bottle of rum, and calling him a ‘c’ is one thing. Doing the same to your dowager great aunt, whose only exposure to the word was an unfortunate incident behind the bike sheds in 1956, is quite another. 


The C word steps up to be used often by men as a substitute for an affectionate word to indicate deep love or friendship that is beyond words, and beer, to convey. Calling your mate the c word is a substitute for, “You know what, after some due consideration and after a long association with your good self engaged in projects and experiences of a various nature, I have come to realise that you are a man of impeccable ethics, skills and creativity who is kind to both kittens and daffodils and in my estimation you are a gentleman and a scholar of whose acquaintance I have had the honour to know for quite some time.”. All of this, and much much more in just one word.

‘Wanker’ sometimes will do, but nothing beats a ‘cunt’ in the right context. Just ask my mate in the back bar of the Tyacks in Camborne on a Saturday night. 

I was prompted to think upon this by the frequent use of the word ‘inshallah’ here in Jeddah. It crops up in almost every sentence, especially in those phrases indicating hoped for, or actually planned, action. Its literally meaning is “If Allah wills it” or in English, “God Willing”. We have long since abandoned using that phrase in Bodmin, as God long ago abandoned Bodmin to the dogs and the doggers. 

Again context is everything here, and as I am an outsider I have no idea what the word really means every time I hear it. Do they mean it literally, metaphorically or merely as a verbal tic? In English some people punctuate their sentences with ‘you know’ when you clearly do not, and they have no idea if you do. It is a substitute for breathing in, or for the hard work of thinking, or coming up with a sentence that conveys any meaning meaning beyond the simplistic… you know? So it probably is with ‘inshallah’. No doubt some literally mean it, that their lives are governed by a God who wills absolutely everything and thus nothing they do can come to fruition unless God allows it. I suspect they don’t take it literally though. I suspect it is just a phrase they use instead of a full stop at the end of a sentence. 

They never say “I’m going to buy a camel, inshallah” as they are clearly going to buy a camel come what may. Nor do they say “I’m going to wear those pink silk panties, the ones with the little daisy decoration and more importantly does not ride up the crack of my arse, inshallah”. The wives never say this either. Neither do they they say “I’m going for a dump, inshallah” because clearly over millennia God not only wills it, but has clearly designed it in. But they will say, “ I’ll be in the meeting next week, inshallah” and “I’ll deliver that life saving piece of equipment upon which your hope, dreams and prosperity depends, inshallah”. Well, God had better will it, or better still you, the promisee, should just get on with doing your job and stop blaming imaginary beings in the sky for your fuck ups. You don’t want your doctor saying, “You will be getting adequate pain relief following your bowel resection, inshallah”. No. You want nothing left to chance or God’s will when it comes to having your guts slashed open and a barely trained doctor rummaging around your pancreas with a spoon. 

And if you don’t like the meaning of a word, just change it. I’ll not be offended.

Right, I’m off to get a coffee, inshallah. 

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

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