One of my regrets was selling a little book my friend Seamus found in a skip outside a cottage which was being gutted in town. He used to love poking about in skips and often came with some small treasure he'd found to see if I would like it.

But this particular little book was one of the oldest I'd ever had. It was printed in 1702 and had been a series of small pamphlets which would have been sold on street corners for one penny. It was actually extremely funny and extremely rude. It consisted of verses which more or less rhymed, concerning the adventures of a man who drank in various ale-houses among vagrants and robbers and vagabonds...and ladies of ill-repute. I suspect it would almost have been considered as 18th c porn such were the stories contained inside.

There were many references to 'may your Tarrywinkle rot with the pox' and another verse I can just about remember was of a lady with big bosoms sitting on the writers lap and 'making his Tarrywinkle tremble with delight' as she shook her shoulders to allow her frock to fall down a little more. The writer was once so taken with strong ale and the attentions of a lady with hidden delights beneath her skirts that he fell through the chair he was sitting on and had to make a run for it before the landlord...May a Pox be Upon Him Sir...made him pay for the damage he'd caused and the lady who was on his lap at the time demanded a new frock 'cos the one she was wearing was quite spoiled with ale...

Of course it was written in the old way with the 's' shaped like an 'f' and little spacing between the words. The book itself was small...easily held in one hand...and the pages were sewn together with what was probably a sinew of some sort. And the different passages or rhymes were printed at lop-sided angles so the sentences went up and down upon the page.

So, why am I telling you this...because times change and in the very early 1700's it was perfectly acceptable to bawl at a person who'd offended you that you hoped a pox would be upon them...men had tarrywinkles and ladies who frequented the ale houses had delights under their skirts. Try saying that to the next woman you meet in a 'pub and you'd get your face slapped and be arrested for sexual harrassment...

What was considered perfectly acceptable then isn't now...I remember a television programme where Black people were referred to as Nig-Nogs...we'd be horrified to hear that today on the British BBC...but in the late 60's it was thought amusing. A character in Dad's Army...a favourite comedy which has re-runs now...used to refer to the people he fought during the Boer War as Fuzzy-Wuzzys...

Our language is endlessly evolving and changing...lap-top...microwave...gigabytes...are those words I can think of immediately though there are so very more which were once unknown. We lose words as well...we've lost tarrywinkle and shirt-lifter but we've kept brown-noser which now describes someone who sucks up to their bosses rather than it's original meaning of a homosexual...some words we use sound offensive to the ears and we cringe a little...it always makes me annoyed when I hear Travellers referred to as Pikeys which I think offensive...but when our neighbour Tom uses fuck in every sentence whether he's talking about the weather or the silage I just don't take a blind bit of notice. It does happen to be the favourite Irish adjective anyway...used by everyone from very small children to old men. Older women use feck. Means exactly the same and yet sounds more acceptable.

A word you may well shudder at when you hear it spoken, may leave me totally unmoved...and vice-versa.

Our language is rich and it can be powerful...it is endlessly altering and changing when new events warrant new words...sometimes our suspicion about different races makes us feel more comfortable if we give them names...like Jones with the Fuzzy-Wuzzys...now we call Muslims Rag Heads because we are frightened and scared by the minority who plan a world takeover...by giving those people a less than polite nickname we feel safer. And in turn they call us infidels...because giving us a nickname which might be thought offensive, they too are making us less frightening.

Black people no longer care to be referred to as a person of colour...now they welcome being called Black and call each other...especially in the inner cities...nigga, as a term of brotherhood and affection. Overweight people use to be carefully called people of size...now they say themselves they are obese or plain fat.

One of my qualifications is an R.N.M.S.....a registered nurse for the mentally subnormal...because when I first began in a long stay hospital the patients were called...mentally subnormal. Not learning disabled or intellectually challenged...those terms were unknown then...but over the past forty years one description has become socially unacceptable and another has taken it's place.

Maybe the man who wrote the little book which Seamus found that day...maybe there were words and descriptions he felt he ought not to use...perhaps he sprinkled his short tales with words like tarrywinkle because in his day that was perfectly acceptable...he could have been only too aware that a word in common usage in the 1600's wasn't quite nice in the early days of the 1700's.

Perhaps we are becoming slightly too precious over our choice of wording and descriptions and need to remember that old adage...sticks and stones may break my bones...but words will never hurt me.