Posts Tagged ‘George Chapman’

On George Chapman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and uncalled-for obscenities

As I see this blog as a safe space from the various vulgarities and obscenities that sadly pollute our world, I generally try to ensure that all posts here are suitable for family viewing. There is, admittedly, the odd exception, but, like Mr Podsnap, I disapprove of anything that may bring a blush to the cheek of a young person. On the rare occasion I break this rule, I feel it best to provide a trigger warning. And I do so here. If you are offended by rude words, by uncalled-for obscenity, please stop reading here. For those who wish to read on, I would like to make it clear that I cannot be held responsible for any offence caused, or for any trauma incurred.

Windfucker. It is not, I’m happy to say, a word in common usage.  It was thrust upon my attention recently when I mistyped the word “wonderful” on my iPad, typing an “i” instead of an “o” (the two vowels being next to each other on the keypad), and, possibly, omitting the “er”. The auto-correct facility on my iPad assumed that the word I was trying to type in was “windfucker”.

I confess to being at the time deeply traumatised and mildly amused, but then remembered that I had indeed used the word before. But my usage had been, I hasten to add, entirely respectable, referring as it did to George Chapman, the first translator of Homer, who, in the preface to the 1611 edition of his translation of The Iliad, referred to a detractor as an “envious windfucker”. The word, it seems, referred then to a kestrel, and was an alternative – and, in those days, not too obscene an alternative – to the windhover. But now that we no longer use this term to refer to the windhover, we could do worse, I think, than follow the example of that great wordsmith George Chapman, and use the word as a suitably disdainful term of opprobrium.

I can’t help thinking also that Gerard Manley Hopkins missed a trick here. “The Windhover” is certainly among the greatest of all English poems, and any anthology of English verse would be incomplete without it. But isn’t it a shame that, given the choice between “windhover” and “windfucker”, Hopkins went for the more respectable option? For perhaps the one and only time, one can’t help thinking, Hopkins chose the wrong word.