Mrs. Grundy: Studies in English Prudery is an entertaining and informative read by Peter Fryer that takes a deeper look at the extreme beliefs towards sexuality and censorship in the past. His notes go as far back as the 1300s, and some of the information is outlandish and downright hilarious.
Fryer’s account begins with the spoken word. The first few chapters trace the changing words considered to be proper. For example, the word “belly”, which gradually was replaced by “stomach” in the 1300s. It was taboo to say “belly” – in fact, according to the text, “Respectable Englishwomen” were seriously offended, even by doctors, who used the word. Fryer includes stories of Doctors unable to treat patients who couldn’t tell him which “limb” was hurting because they refused to use the necessary words to describe parts of the body!
These stories are laughable in modern times – but it’s important to remember that self-censorship certainly still exists today, particularly in radically conservative groups. We might like to think of our own beliefs as far superior to medieval values, but much remains the same more often than we like to think.