Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Why “Bugger” is a Bad Word
It was a summery day and I was a little Canadian boy at a Private Day School of the English variety. All little boys in our Private Day School wore short pants. Only big boys were allowed to wear trousers. We all wore school jackets with lovely bold stripes, and white shirts and school ties. In high glee I was chasing another small boy around a small circular garden and shouting at him something like, “I’ll get you, you little bugger!”
Suddenly an adult figure looms out of the receding mists of my memory. It is Mr. Steele who grabs me by the scruff of my neck and calls a halt to my joy by informing me that “bugger” is a very bad word. Why at that age a word like “bugger” should be a very bad word was incomprehensible because there were bugs all around us and the word “bugger” was quite obviously about bugs.
I was remanded to the Teacher’s Study for the lecture on why bugger is a bad word. I received a deeply mystifying and completely incomprehensible lecture on why “bugger” is a bad word. Of course what buggery is, is never actually mentioned, just a lot of vague bosh. I have no idea what the explanation might have been. My shameful indiscretion was reported to my parents who also seemed to think it was a bad word, but didn’t seem to be able to explain why. But I did understand that for some inexplicable reason I shouldn’t say “bugger” because adults didn’t like it. I don’t remember feeling even the slightest shame or guilt for using that unmentionable word.
At this distance two things emerge. One, if you are going to tell someone that something is wrong, be as clear as you possibly can. Two, the person you may be trying to instruct might not have the experience to understand what you are actually saying unless you spell it out. Why a teacher like Mr. Steele should make such a big deal about a word that had something to do with bugs at that time remained mystifying. The stupid bugger should have laboured harder to understand where a little boy was coming from. But even that insulting remark avoids the real point.
Language is a funny thing and it doesn’t always tell us what we need to know for words are easily manipulated. There was a time when a bishop of Tennessee could with impunity pray, “Give us gay and grateful hearts, O Lord.” He couldn’t do that today. If we don’t know the meaning of the words we use how are we to address very real problems from the viewpoint of Christian morality? Why is “bugger” a bad word? The following entry from the Online Dictionary will help:
bugger - someone who engages in anal copulation (especially a male who engages in anal copulation with another male)
In I Corinthians 6:9 the NIV translates the word as “homosexual offenders.” The NKJV is characteristically more blunt and uses the word “sodomites.”
The problem we have in the Church today is that we forget what words actually mean and we would be horrified if we knew. There is nothing gay about Gay, it is all rather sad and St. Paul speaks about it rather clearly: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:24-27). Paul’s clarity is obviously why Holy Scripture has to be explained away by those who don’t want us to know what a “bugger” is.