A light-hearted look at Caledonian cursing is coming to our TV screens.
Scotland – Contains Strong Language is being shown on Tuesday, 7 April, on BBC Scotland, from 10–11pm.
Schooled in Fife, coming of age in a rock’n’roll band, then finding her forte was directing temperamental actors – Cora Bissett is no stranger to theatrical Scottish swearing. So, who better to present this celebration of Caledonian cursing: Scotland – Contains Strong Language.
In this entertaining hour long documentary, Cora sings, swears and scrutinises why Scotland Swears it Well.
And we begin with the first hurdle – the subject of how one discusses sweary words on the BBC.
Aunty Beeb is the institution that has been historically priggish about language, frequently bleeping words and apologising for those that slipped through. So Cora runs a list – from Minger to MF – past BBC Scotland’s Head of Editorial standards to discover what she can get away with.
She also joins a sociolinguistics class at Glasgow University to understand why swearing offends, discussing which is the bigger problem – words, context, speakers or meaning.
The documentary reveals some remarkable F-in history. Cora goes to the Scottish National Library in Edinburgh, to see William Dunbar’s epic poem – The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie. And in that poem, is the first ever recorded use of the F-word. It’s an unheralded and unique Scottish claim to fame.
For a long time, this country was the very model of rectitude and propriety. More Miss Jean Brodie than Begbie. Cora takes a bleep-and-you’ll-miss-it tour of swearing in the past three centuries, from the Reformation to the early days of Scottish broadcasting.
The programme discusses the role of Billy Connolly in the cursing history of the country and how he got around the censors with his concert LPs. Pastor Jack Glass labelled Billy ‘manure mouth’, but folk loved The Big Yin’s schtick, and his albums were hugely successful.
Scotland wasn’t going to bite its lip any more. When James Kelman won the Booker prize in 1994, his novel had over 4000 F-words. The programme re-examines the ‘controversy’ and the reaction of the literary establishment in London, who called Kelman a ‘literary savage’.
In more recent times, social media has become the stage for Scottish swearing, giving linguists the chance to analyse everyday speech. It turns out, that the majority of swear words are not used in an insulting context – they’re just part of the salty way we speak. And, for a finale, Cora defuses the C-bomb. The one word in the English language that’s certain to offend, but in Scotland can be used in an entirely different way.