Strong Language

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Swearing only comes to light in group records or personal reminiscences or if it reaches a wider audience outside Scouting whose first line of complaint is District or County.  The reports tend to lack details and are less immediately interesting as they carry no notion of how rigorously they were reported, what the words were or if the occasion influenced the need for a reprimand.

The following are all the reports yet located in District Archives.  It is not supposed that they are all the occasions on which Scouts have sworn during the half century covered.

Cambridge Archives

1916                5th Cambridge                         Annual Display included ’The blindfold boxing raised roars of laughter; all found something in it to delight them, even down to the crusty someone who was overheard explaining to a very young Greek scholar the meaning of the verb          .’

The snippet above has now proved to be a fallacious interpretation; the word was omitted for lack of Greek type. The word itself σϏϊαμαεϊν, means ‘To fight in the shade’ and was not a censored expletive drawn forth by the occasion.

1923                3rd Cambridge             ‘I remember about this time one of the boys having a mug of water put down his shirt sleeve for swearing, as suggested in Scouting for Boys.  A lot of water would be needed if this was practiced in present days!’     Ken North (1978)

1931                District Minutes          ‘That the use of strong language in plays performed by Scouts and Rovers be discouraged and avoided where possible.’

1954                54th Cambridge           Bad language  ‘one or two instances at camp’ ‘breaking the scout law and having (potentially a bad?) effect on outsiders’

1968                54th Cambridge           ‘Bad language’  Observation noted by the  Court of Honour

1968                Complaint of bad behaviour at Fire Course.

1968                Complaint that (the) Cubs were blamed for issues at Abington which were the fault of VS, swearing and damaging trees.  


What constitutes swearing depends on the auditor.  My mother remembers her Latin teacher in about 1946 telling the girls not to swear when hearing the term ‘Jeepers Creepers’.  It is not clear if it was the Americanism, the circumlocutory JC (Jesus Christ) or lack of clarity in any emotive exclamation that initiated his disapproval.  Even in 1946 this was a strict view. 

The records give no notion of the changing vocabulary that was deemed as swearing, nor the introduction of new words into that vocabulary as the old ones become commonplace.  I recall my mother, who, bring born in Toxteth, Liverpool 8, was not ignorant of the traditional expletives, coming for the first time across a term descriptive of Oedipus.  Not shocked, but interested in the need for the neologism when, to her, many others remained un-uttered.

I am, here, as circumlocutory as previous reporters, not wishing to offend.  These records do not give us the words used; witness 1916 above, quoted as recorded.

The report of ‘one or two instances at camp’ quoted above gives a feeling of frequency and location.  The incidences were few and if we do not know the immediate cause, if in argument or pain,  we may deduce that on the whole 54th Cambridge scouts did not swear (when scouting) or it would not have been an issue.  The location suggests that this recording was not because the swearing was overheard by outsiders or authority, but a Group expectation.  It does not indicate the age of the Scout leader who, if 60, may, like the Latin teacher, have dated notions.

Not much given to swearing anywhere I recall using the word bloody when chastising Cubs who were becoming over excited and potentially dangerous with canes.  I was conscious of the need to explain ‘and I say bloody because it will come to BLOOD’. 

How much was omitted is unknown.  Quiet words and expressions of disapproval are generally part of the process between leader and Scout.  It was not necessarily recorded.  The point at which a Scout is formally asked to modify their behaviour or leave is usually preceded by a significant period of explaining the expectations and initially tolerating the bad behaviour as they struggle to change.

It should be noted that adult misdemeanours are not recorded in the archives and not available for repeating here.

JWR Archivist Apr 2019