Here is the excerpt,

"We could be sort of. . . ." Simon became inarticulate in his effort to express mankind's essential illness. Inspiration came to him.

"What's the dirtiest thing there is?"

As an answer Jack dropped into the uncomprehending silence that followed it the one crude expressive syllable. Release was immense. Those littluns who had climbed back on the twister fell off again and did not mind. The hunters were screaming with delight.

Simon's effort fell about him in ruins; the laughter beat him cruelly and he shrank away defenseless to his seat.

Was it like just any typical class clown type of funny remark or does this imply a specific punchline? What does it mean by one crude expressive syllable?

Also, Simon's question was supposed to be rhetorical but I am not understanding what he was getting at. Overall I think his point was that the beast is inside all of us but what is the relation of that point to "what's the dirtiest thing there is?"?

I hope my questions are clear and I did not break any rules.

  • I haven't read this book, and I think there's context that I'm missing, so I can't answer most of your question. But, the "one crude expressive syllable" is meaning to let the audience fill in nearly any swear word they want. Words like "fuck," "shit," or even "crap" could fit that description. And just saying the description lets the author not write out the word while still conveying the meaning. Apr 1 at 17:15
  • 1
    @Sam I've answered here, but you might, in future, consider if Literature is a better place to ask. Even if you are an English learner, Literature has more experts on the "meaning" of novels than are here.
    – James K
    Apr 1 at 18:14
  • Thank you both for your answers. @JamesK I will keep that in mind for next time.
    – Sam
    Apr 1 at 18:22
  • Several clues suggest that Jack's response was sincere but misunderstanding, not trying to be a "class clown" Apr 1 at 19:06
  • @AndyBonner Can you please reveal what these clues are?
    – Sam
    Apr 1 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


"Shit" (probably)

Apparently, Jack says something that can't be written down. But it is a single-syllable word, and means something "dirty" but is "crude" and "expressive". It would not have been acceptable when the book was published to print the word "shit", and certainly not in a book written for children. So the author hints at the word without saying it directly. There are other swear words, but this seems to fit the context best.

We can't know for certain what Jack said, but it was shocking enough to cause a commotion, and ridicule Simon for his seriousness.

Simon seems to be making the point that "the beast is us" (and so can't be "hunted") so perhaps he is trying to get the others to reflect on the fact that "the dirtiest thing" actually comes out of our own bodies.

  • I also read a bit of humor in the passage. I don't know that Golding considers the word to be so taboo, or thinks that his readers will, so much as he's showing just how big a deal it is to young kids. Something like the "wash your mouth out with soap" scene in A Christmas Story. Simon is delving into weighty stuff like "original sin," but "the worst thing" to a young mind is sometimes just societal transgression. Apr 1 at 21:43

The clue to context is here: "...in his effort to express mankind's essential illness..."

Any word meaning "trash" or "garbage" would fit. Given the reaction from the people around them, it was a foul word, something explicit and extremely unspeakable. "$#IT" fits well.

  • Welcome! Just to let you know, when directly relevant to the question, It's usually helpful in this community to write out swear words rather than redacting them like you did here. Someone who is learning English may have trouble parsing symbols meant to stand in for letters. Apr 4 at 19:31

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