Well, the cheek of it! I mean, who’d have thought anything quite this petty would come to pass nowadays in the kingdom of Benny and Fanny Hillbillies that gave the world “Pussy Galore”! Mrs. Slocombe’s pussy, for instance! Just last weekend (shortly before our digital receiver box gave up the ghost), BBC 2 presented its latest instalment of Balderdash and Piffle, a national word-hunt in which the British public is asked to dig for evidence of earlier uses of put-downs and swearwords like “tosser,” “plonker,” and “pratt” than are currently acknowledged in the street cred craving Oxford English Dictionary. Yet you won’t find the word “fanny” uttered on British cable television. Even the Golden Girls are getting their “fannies” scratched by overeager censors.
I noticed it a few days ago, listening, eyes averted, to an episode in which Rose and Blanche (recently seen—alas, not by me—at a New York City gay bar promoting her latest memoirs) are giving themselves a serious makeover in order to land a pair of eligible twins. The bathing suits were a bit tight, they had to admit; but according to Rose, the ever resourceful Blanche dreamed up a kitchen sink remedy faster than dieting: to spray their behinds with butter substitute PAM so as to be able to cheat themselves into those truth-telling garments.
Ingenious, to be sure. Yet viewers here in the United Kingdom didn’t get to hear about it. That word, “fannies” was faded out. Of course, it means something other than buttocks in the Queen’s English. Still, I thought it a rather pathetic cover-up. Come to think of it, the other day we had an e-mail message returned since it included the word “bitch,” even though it referred to the canine variety.
Since we are on the subject of “pussy” (a subject I, not numbering among the cat fanciers, rarely bring up in any company, polite or otherwise): here is my favorite scene from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (dating back to 1853, mind you). Laughing too loudly about it, without having anything in mind but a tosser-upper of a feline, got me into an embarrassing situation during my—pardon the vulgarly academic expression—”oral examination”:
The friendship begun over bread and butter extended on to cards [. . .].
As a proof of how thoroughly we had forgotten that we were in the presence of one who might have sat down to tea with a coronet, instead of a cap, on her head, Mrs. Forrester related a curious little fact to Lady Glenmire—an anecdote known to the circle of her intimate friends, but of which even Mrs. Jamieson was not aware. It related to some fine old lace, the sole relic of better days, which Lady Glenmire was admiring on Mrs Forrester’s collar.
“Yes,” said that lady, “such lace cannot be got now for either love or money; made by the nuns abroad, they tell me [. . .]. I daren’t even trust the washing of it to my maid” [. . .]. Of course, your ladyship knows that such lace must never be starched or ironed. Some people wash it in sugar and water, and some in coffee, to make it the right yellow colour; but I myself have a very good receipt for washing it in milk, which stiffens it enough, and gives it a very good creamy colour. Well, ma’am, I had tacked it together (and the beauty of this fine lace is that, when it is wet, it goes into a very little space), and put it to soak in milk, when, unfortunately, I left the room; on my return, I found pussy on the table, looking very like a thief, but gulping very uncomfortably, as if she was half-chocked with something she wanted to swallow and could not. And, would you believe it? At first I pitied her, and said ‘Poor pussy! poor pussy!’ till, all at once, I looked and saw the cup of milk empty – cleaned out! ‘You naughty cat!’ said I, and I believe I was provoked enough to give her a slap, which did no good, but only helped the lace down—just as one slaps a choking child on the back. I could have cried, I was so vexed; but I determined I would not give the lace up without a struggle for it. I hoped the lace might disagree with her, at any rate; but it would have been too much for Job, if he had seen, as I did, that cat come in, quite placid and purring, not a quarter of an hour after, and almost expecting to be stroked. ‘No, pussy!’ said I, ‘if you have any conscience you ought not to expect that!’ And then a thought struck me; and I rang the bell for my maid, and sent her to Mr. Hoggins, with my compliments, and would he be kind enough to lend me one of his top-boots for an hour? I did not think there was anything odd in the message; but Jenny said the young men in the surgery laughed as if they would be ill at my wanting a top-boot. When it came, Jenny and I put pussy in, with her forefeet straight down, so that they were fastened, and could not scratch, and we gave her a teaspoonful of current-jelly in which (your ladyship must excuse me) I had mixed some tartar emetic. I shall never forget how anxious I was for the next half- hour. I took pussy to my own room, and spread a clean towel on the floor. I could have kissed her when she returned the lace to sight, very much as it had gone down. Jenny had boiling water ready, and we soaked it and soaked it, and spread it on a lavender- bush in the sun before I could touch it again, even to put it in milk. But now your ladyship would never guess that it had been in pussy’s inside.”
Go ahead, girls, get your “fannies” sprayed! Just make sure those tight-laced censors understand which end you are buttering.