Bee Wilson: The Littlehampton Libels

As well as being obscene, the libels were also decidedly strange. This was swearing as a foreign language by someone who had the vocab but was not sure of how to fit the words together. The phrases ‘poxy ass’ and ‘foxy ass’ often pop up in the libels. The ‘foxy’ in question did not mean ‘sassy’, but decaying like a foxed book. The phrase ‘piss country whore’, a favourite in the letters, is not one that Christopher Hilliard can trace to any known usage. Often, they pile up an excess of adjectives for effect: ‘bloody flaming fucking piss country’, where ‘bloody country’ on its own would do.