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Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Let us swear while we may, for in Heaven it will not be allowed"

Man, do I love swearing. The whole idea that four little sounds all strung together in a row suddenly means something terrible--well it's like a Reuben sandwich in reverse: all that normal stuff combines to make something way worse than the sum of its parts. (Whereas, you know, in a Reuben they take a bunch of gross stuff and make a really awesome sandwich. I guess metaphors are substantially less effective if you have to explain them like this.)

Swearing in English is pretty neat. I'm so not the first person to even go here, but I personally like the versatility (and utility!) of fuck. Only really really dull words like get, or go even approach the usefulness of fuck. For the last 500 years, fuck and its variants have been available to describe intercourse, to yell loudly when dropping something on one's foot, and to serve as an intensifier, the linguistic equivalent of MSG.


Along the same lines as a reverse Reuben sandwich are whole phrases that, when put together, suddenly take on all sorts of new meaning. In parts of China, while it's perfectly acceptable to talk about turtles, calling someone a turtle is the worst possible epithet. Apparently the South African Xoxa tribe's equivalent of fucktard translates to "your mother's ears." In Italy, my favorite mild oath was porca vaca or "pig cow." (When highly incensed, porca puttana, or "pig whore" usually did the trick.) Other times, English words used in Australia, England, and the US can have "swear meanings" that others aren't aware of. In his book on language (pictured left), Bill Bryson relates an incident at which, after finishing a polite dinner with a British family, he stands up, places a hand over his stomach, and says, "boy, I'm stuffed," only to discover by his hosts' shocked silence that in England, the only way people are ever stuffed is with cocks. Bet he never made that mistake again.

So the Big 3 in English are arguably fuck, shit, and cunt, and it is actually a little thrilling and exciting to be stringing them all together in this fashion, but it is interesting to note that, insofar as talking about evacuating one's bowels was concerned, shit really was no big deal until about the 1820s. Just before that time, something along the lines of zooterkins was considered much too risque for mixed company.

But I think even better than all these are regionalisms. Out here in Mormon country, you hear "Oh my heck" a lot. Back home, lots of epithets get all mangled together, like goddamn, goddammit, and my personal favorite, sonsabitches. I have seriously walked around the house for days on end muttering sonsabitches to myself just to hear how funny it sounds. I think cockamamie is pretty good, too, even if it doesn't really qualify as a regionalism, unless you consider England a long time ago a region.

Readers: What are your favorite swear words? What do you most giggle at to see in print or hear said out loud? Have you ever been in a misunderstanding involving someone's not realizing the sweariness of a word?

26 comments:

Tammy said...

When I was just learning to talk, right before my parents divorced, they invited a priest over for dinner (and marital counseling, I presume. Um, it didn't work).

Anyway! For whatever reason I was completely enamored with the TV commercials for Shout Stain Remover and would waddle around the house babbling "Shout, Shout, Shout it Out!" However, the evening that the priest came over for dinner, I apparently decided to experiment with vowels and intead I bellowed, "Shit! Shit! Shit it out!"

My mother was horrifed. My father thought it was hysterical. It's still one of his favorite "when Tammy was little" stories to tell at family gatherings...

Tammy said...

I love the word "bitch". Saying "cock" makes me feel all dirty -- so I like that one, too.

Tyson said...

I personally like "dumb twat" and "fucktard." And no, I didn't say dumb twats and fucktards. I don't like dumb twats and fucktards much at all.

Elaine said...

Steven Pinker has a book about the same thing... it's cool stuff. His book is The Stuff of Thought. Pinker's book has humorous parts, but I doubt it's as funny as Bryson. Pinker is a linguist at Harvard. He has the same "I'm stuffed" reference. It's really an interesting book, especially for any who love linguistics.

When I was a young child, maybe 3... I was stacking dominoes... until they were so high they would topple over, at which point I proudly proclaimed, "DAMN." I stacked them again, they fell, "DAMN" said I. If my mother thought it was an accident, she was immediately set straight. She told me to stop. I didn't. I kept repeating the act, and the word, until she took me to the bathroom and washed my mouth out with soap.

My FAVORITE swear is the Latin milk mustache: You will suck my huge manly cock while I fuck you hard in the face, you punk-ass bitch-pussy, and you are such punk-ass bitch-pussy that you will display a satisfied smile and where the milk mustache wishing for more. Well, it's actually a little more demeaning and far more offensive... but that's as close as I can get.

Imagine my secret chuckle at all the "Got Milk" signs... and you too will never look upon those signs again with innocence.

Tammy said...

Elaine, you filthy, filthy girl.

DBB said...

Watching one episode of the first season of The Wire you will see the greatest use of the word "Fuck" in history. It tells a story...

I am now dealing with swearing by my two year old - she said "god damnit" again today in day care and they mentioned it when I picked her up. My wife then told her in the car (as we came home from dinner tonight for my birthday) that she shouldn't say "god damnit" and I told my wife that saying that will just make her say it more. Sure enough, five minutes later, from the back seat we hear "god damnit, god damnit, god damnit" and when I look back I see our two-year old's best mischievous grin...

I'm not sure I have a favorite swear word. I like really obnoxious swears as a form of art and because they can be so offensive. Somehow, the more outrageously offensive something is, the more I want to laugh.

Brannon said...


follow me
on twitter and I will tell you my favorite dirty word. I think I have followed you long enough now haven't I? That goes for all of you.

Elaine said...

Another one I like... son of gun. A long time ago when men went a sailing... they took along a whore. Naturally, after so much fucking, the whore got pregnant. The baby, if male, was a son of gun. It was a horrid insult that usually ended in blood shed. The baby, if female, was just another whole to fuck, hence... any port in a storm.

Tyson said...

Um, your twit site was rather uninspired B... whuddup widat?

Elaine said...

Then there is i in malam crucem! Literally, "go into an evil crucifixion..." or, "go get hanged" (think of hanging on a cross, not from a rope)... or simply, "go get crucified." It was the worst form of torture known at the time.

And the more poetic version, pascere corvos in cruce, which means "feed the crows on the cross." Then there is crucis offla, corvorum cibaria, meaning "morsel from the cross, food for the crows.

I have wanted for a long time to display one of these, printed in calligraphy and framed nicely, on my desk. When asked what it meant... I would answer it was an ancient Latin blessing with some flowery nonsense. Catullus would be proud.

Ahhhh, no one could insult better than the Romans.

Erin said...

Elaine--Bryson has more than a little to say on the English equivalent, "go fuck youself" or "get fucked." It basically boils down to why don't people say "yes, I'd like that, please"?

As for best use of fuck in movies or TV: it has to be Chris Cooper in Adaptation.

John Laroche (Cooper): Look, I'll tell you a story, all right? I once feel deeply, you know, profoundly in love with tropical fish. Had 60 goddamn fish tanks in my house. I skin dived to find just the right ones. Anisotremus virginicus, Holdacanthus ciliaris, Chaetodon capistratus. You name it. Then one day I say, "fuck fish". I renounce fish. I vow never to set foot in that ocean again. That's how much "fuck fish".
Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep): But why?
Laroche: Done with fish.

Erin said...

Sorry Brannon, Twitter is for 13-year-old girls for whom MySpace just isn't enough. Imbed it in your nice, grown-up blog and maybe I'll follow.


Fucktard.







Yep, still my favorite.

Tyson said...

I just love you so much Erin!

Ancient Mariner said...

I think I'll have to go for versatility on my favorite...Fuck is just so useful in any situation, and my favorite activity too.

I was never much on bitch, but cunt will piss a woman off fast as hell, so naturally I love it.

For overall amusement value, and of course for the images it summons, I love the word "jackhole". This one was inspired to my friends and I by The Man Show. When you call someone a jackhole, you can think of all kinds of images.

I love words for the images that they conjure in your head. Go fuck yourself...if I could don't you think I would. Fuck you...sure, I have some spare time on my next break. Blow me...no thanks, Ive already flossed. Eat me...I'm alergic to 4 day old tuna, but thanks. Kiss my ass...that could take all fucking day.

Another amusing image is dickhead. I always imagine someone with a giant penis head resting on their shoulder.

Anyway, great topic. I love cussing. It's a fun way to vent emotion and can quite often be very sexy in the right situation. So, until next time, just take it bitch.

Brannon said...

I have a nice grown up blog that I made just for you guys. I spend most of my time with other musicians just like you guys spend your time with teachers.
Twitter is embedded in my Kompoz profile (where the musicians are) but followers can see when I add a new song if they also use twitter... just an idea.

Cock snot.

Erin said...

Brannon, if you made a blog just for us, ummm....how come none of us know about it?

Brannon said...

http://www.brannonsmusic.blogspot.com

I have no idea why it doesn't appear in my profile. I just noticed. No wonder nobody visits me.

. . . Fuckwad.

Elaine said...

You know about it... he's posted his songs there... some have even posted responses. The problem is, he only posts like once a quarter, so we tend to forget, including me.

Tyson said...

In keeping consistent with the teacher motif, I performed the classic reading mis-cue when I mis-read cock snot as cock snoot. Either one is adequate.
BTW, here's an interesing discussion of the topic for you,
you puissant purgings of puss pus!

Tammy said...

B, you've always been on my blog roll, honey-honey.

Elaine said...

Cock snot... just sounds like a running, oozy, diseased cock, and NOT at all a pleasant visual.

Brannon said...

Snot is to snoot as piss is to prick. Thats a classic fucktard mistake. . . and that is in keeping with the goddamn teacher motif.

Erin said...

What were you trying to link to, hon? Your hyperlink didn't go.

Erin's Mom said...

I'm going to add "fucktard" to my swearing vocabulary. It's wonderful!

By the way, the proper response to "fuckwad" is "come bucket."

Erin said...

At least fuckwads get a PAC representing their interests.

Tammy said...

LMFAO, Erin. That's hysterical.

Oh, and you know what else is cool? That your mom just said "fucktard".