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July 1, 2013 11:05 AM   Subscribe

F**k, I Need Some New Swear Words: Too many curse words strengthen the kind of social structures that we should be dismantling.

It’s strange then, that given all the Internet-inspired new words that have made it into dictionaries over the past decade (e.g. tweet, defriend, uplink), none of them are swears or curses. You might stop me here and say that those press releases are just ways of ginning up press for a dying institution– some shameless link bait by people that don’t really know what that means. I think that’s besides the point entirely. After all, what would be more press-worthy than a word you can’t say in polite company? And yet, the offerings remain scant. I guess I could call you a Scumbag Steve but in the heat of the moment I’m probably just going to call you a motherfucker.
posted by not_the_water (242 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll second his plug of Lexicon Valley. That Bob Garfield sure is a rascal.
posted by not_the_water at 11:08 AM on July 1, 2013


....I've gotten about three swears from the Internet alone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


PC cursing?
posted by jonmc at 11:11 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


"What a dubyin' dubya. Dub that dubya."
posted by Flunkie at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


It’s strange then, that given all the Internet-inspired new words that have made it into dictionaries over the past decade (e.g. tweet, defriend, uplink), none of them are swears or curses

I don't know what rock this douchecanoe has been living under, but just because the asshats at the OED haven't seen fit to put them into a santorum-encrusted tome doesn't mean the Internet hasn't invented or popularized plenty of profane words.
posted by kagredon at 11:13 AM on July 1, 2013 [65 favorites]


Too many curse words strengthen the kind of social structures that we should be dismantling.

Hostile language is often invented by people with power and privilege. Having a strong sense of your own superiority plus impunity is a good place from which to begin throwing stones. See Richard Prior and Chevy Chase on racist word association.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:14 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've been working on creating a bunch of pretty good swear portmanteaus in the style of "douchecanoe". I need to make a generator for them at some point. The best one I've come up with so far is "orcwanker".
posted by NoraReed at 11:14 AM on July 1, 2013 [21 favorites]


yeah, the $_noun $_verber construction is the formula for endless entertainment.
posted by elizardbits at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


noodletoucher
goatgroper
chairsniffer
&c
posted by elizardbits at 11:16 AM on July 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Cheneylicker
posted by mosk at 11:18 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the late 90s I was once called a shitass.

Such an elegant cursed portmanteau, but the belligerent drunk whom I'd just handily beaten at darts did not take my effusive compliment on his language kindly.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gorram all this frakkin' smeg.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:19 AM on July 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


When I call you a Dick, I'm alluding to Nixon.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:20 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Cockbib", "asshat" and "dicksmack" are my own favorites. Although "orcwanker" just made me laugh out loud for real.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


mosk: "Cheneylicker"

Now that's over the line.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:25 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have struggled with this topic myself. I've been able to wean myself of of several obviously bad swears, to the extent that I don't even like typing them any more (but I will express them with o's for your reading pleasure - fog, botch, nogger, slot, rotord) but I still haven't found appropriate alternatives or really convinced myself that swearing isn't inherently prejudiced.

for example, I was thinking about who I was insulting when I said jesus christ vs. fuck. Fuck bothers anybody who's a prude because it's on the list of Things Good People Don't Say. Jesus christ offends people who find peace in their lives by turning to a (imo non-existent) deity for guidance and direction.

So I've been trying to not say jesus christ because there are people I know who I respect who probably don't like it, and it's only through their good will that they listen to me incidentally insult them and their beliefs and not turn around and say "rebent is really a prick." That same good will that I do not extend to people who have not learned, like I have, not to call their mundane problems retarded.

but fuck... if you've got a fucking problem with that, you can get fucked. At least until I realize that this negative association with sex supports rape.
posted by rebent at 11:26 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


It’s strange then, that given all the Internet-inspired new words that have made it into dictionaries over the past decade (e.g. tweet, defriend, uplink), none of them are swears or curses.

Why is this strange? What's the history of the swear words that are in the dictionary? I would think swear words have always been added slowly.

On the other hand, I think "assclown" leapt right into immediate usage following the 1999 release of Office Space.

Holy shit, Office Space is almost 15 years old...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:26 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gorram all this frakkin' smeg.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:29 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Popefelching douchetruck.

It's all a discerning foul-mouth needs anymore.
posted by carsonb at 11:32 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Wankfragment" has always been a favourite of mine.

See also "romoponce".
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:35 AM on July 1, 2013


Assbutt!
posted by The Whelk at 11:36 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think a lot of people are going to have problems with your various douchemanteaus, but I do like the interpretation that (I think) was first promulgated on MeFi, which is that "douche" is an excellent insult because it is "something that is at best useless and at worst harmful to women".
posted by Rock Steady at 11:36 AM on July 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


I think a lot of people are going to have problems with your various douchemanteaus, but I do like the interpretation that (I think) was first promulgated on MeFi, which is that "douche" is an excellent insult because it is "something that is at best useless and at worst harmful to women".

That's basically how I've always viewed it (even pre-Metafilter) but as a guy I don't get to dictate the reclamation there.
posted by kmz at 11:43 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's better than using cobag (short for colostomy bag) as a substitute for douchebag as some people on another blog did when there were complains about the latter.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2013


I think that it's more that the internet has caused a mass devaluation of all swears. No word is considered taboo at all online, and its effect has been bleeding into society for some time now. New terms have emerged to describe horrid things, that in the past would have been considered a swear. Santorum immediately comes to mind. But with the inflation of the cultural currency that took place in regards to all previous swears, racial epithets, etc.. swears have been made obsolete.

Yes, yes.. Paula Deen and all.. but that's TV-Reality, in TV-Reality you can't swear. But online, and to an uncomfortable (for me at least) extent the real world white people say "nigger" all the time. Or at least young white people, the type who grew up in a world where the internet always existed. For them, the word has no real meaning as an epithet except in some nebulous past that they have no frame of reference to outside of movies they probably will never watch like Roots.
posted by mediocre at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does "santorum" not qualify? It's a new swear which is not derived from existing swears. If it doesn't qualify simply because it's currently passé, I'd argue the author is grinding an axe rather than making a legitimate observation.
posted by ardgedee at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2013


Duh people: santorum

The great thing about it is that it actually kind of makes you go ewww
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2013


Also, another vote for douchecanoe. My favorite portmanteau of the year thus far!
posted by mediocre at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2013


Meh. These seems backwards to me; the words are powerful because the taboos are powerful. It's when the taboo fades that the words fade. Our stock of pet blashpemies is considerably diminished from what it was in Shakespeare's day. You can move the word but if the taboo remains then it just accrues to the new word, over time. You can try and make words for people with privileges, but as long as rich, powerful, intelligent and respected are things people want to be, it's hard to make 'em stick. It's much worse to be called a greaser than a soc, white trash than a prep.
posted by Diablevert at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


httpenis
posted by orme at 11:49 AM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Really, we just need new taboos so we can shock people when we refer to them.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:49 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always been partial to the ones that are other words that sound much dirtyer than they actually are like "stool softener" and "soda jerk". I've also always loved this commercial but mostly because my mother who was formerly foul mouthed always tried her darnedest to clean it up around us kids and let fly with a lot of "Shoot! Darn you to heck"s!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:49 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Jinx, diablevert.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:50 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Our stock of pet blashpemies is considerably diminished from what it was in Shakespeare's day.

No one swears by God's Bones anymore, that's for sure.
posted by emjaybee at 11:50 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meekrob.
posted by Talez at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2013


Oh and the "Ship my Pants" thing that went around? My son heard it from his giggling cousins, and demanded that I tell him why it was funny.

So now he knows what s**t means, because that's the only way to explain why it's funny. He has been really slow to pick up on the swears, I assume because he hears grownups talking the way Charlie Brown did.

Anyway, so now he knows one! Thanks, internet!
posted by emjaybee at 11:52 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]




Someone in the comments on the article says:
Don’t say “bad”. “Bad” comes from the Old English “bæddel/bædling” which was a slur against effeminate men. Really. I’m not joking.
And even with the "I'm not joking" right there, I can't tell if they're joking or not. More to the point, isn't there a moment when everyone's forgotten about the origin of the word and just associate it with the modern meaning?

Also, is "dumb" ableist? I mean, sure, there are people with cognitive disabilities, but there's plenty of "normals" who are dumb, or perhaps more correctly, ignorant.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:54 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


dumb means mute
posted by rebent at 11:56 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


linkbait
posted by The World Famous at 11:59 AM on July 1, 2013


More to the point, isn't there a moment when everyone's forgotten about the origin of the word and just associate it with the modern meaning?

Dunno, this argument always reminds me of people who have recently finished saying something like "oh, but, not like, gay-gay. Like, stupid-gay!"
posted by en forme de poire at 11:59 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can try and make words for people with privileges, but as long as rich, powerful, intelligent and respected are things people want to be, it's hard to make 'em stick.

derivativesguzzler
greenspanmuncher
marketfucker
miltfuckingonfriedfishman
capitalism's cumstains

I'll get there eventually
posted by kagredon at 11:59 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


rebent: "dumb means mut"

Yeah, except, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that everyday usage refers to stupidity 99 times out of a hundred. Also, "stupid" is mentioned in the same list.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:59 AM on July 1, 2013


I've been using comcastic as a swear, but apparently that's so tame they can say it in TV advertisements.
posted by ckape at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


en forme de poire: "More to the point, isn't there a moment when everyone's forgotten about the origin of the word and just associate it with the modern meaning?

Dunno, this argument always reminds me of people who have recently finished saying something like "oh, but, not like, gay-gay. Like, stupid-gay!
"

There's a pretty big difference between that and a reference to Old English. And "dumb" is somewhere in between, I'd say.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Duh people: santorum

Has anyone ever actually used this word spontaneously in anger or frustration like a real swear?
posted by straight at 12:01 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


In today’s modern Galaxy there is, of course, very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that were they merely to be breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and, in extreme cases, shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed, and totally unf [bleep!] ked-up personality. So, for instance, when in a recent national speech, the financial minister of the Royal World Estate of Qualvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another, and the fact that no one had made any food for awhile and the king seemed to have died, and that most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy had now arrived at what he called, “One whole juju-flop situation,” everyone was so pleased he felt able to come out and say it, that they quite failed to notice that their five-thousand-year-old civilisation had just collapsed overnight. But though even words like “juju-flop,” “swut,” and “turlingdrome” are now perfectly acceptable in common usage, there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the galaxy except one - where they don’t know what it means. That word is “Belgium” and it is only ever used by loose-tongued people like Zaphod Beeblebrox in situations of dire provocation.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:04 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's the history of the swear words that are in the dictionary? I would think swear words have always been added slowly.
The Seven Dirty Words as recorded in the OED:

* shit: Added 1914, earliest cite "early Old English" (i.e. 600 - 950): "Wiþ þon þe men mete untela melte & gecirre on yfele wætan & scittan."
--------------------------
* piss: Added 1907, earliest cite circa 1300: "His menbres þat he carf of, euer-eft he dude misse Bote a luytel wise ȝware-þoruȝ he miȝhte, ȝwane he wolde, pisse."
--------------------------
* fuck: Added 1972, earliest cite before 1500: "Non sunt in cœli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk".

The last four words substitute the next letter in the alphabet for the intended letter, and are where the "fuck" is: "fuccant uuiuys of heli". Apparently it means "They [sc. monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely."
--------------------------
* cunt: Added 1972, earliest cite circa 1230: "Gropecuntelane." Yes, that's the full cite.
--------------------------
* cocksucker: Not entirely clear to me, as it is defined as a minor entry in the main entry "cock", and I'm not sure what the publication history is. At the very least, "cocksucker" was present as of 1989; "cock" was present as of 1891, but of course that might not have included a meaning of "penis".

Earliest cite for cocksucker specifically: 1891: "Cock-sucker, a fellatrix." Earliest cite for "cock" in the sense of "penis": 1618: "Oh man what art thou? when thy cock is vp?"
--------------------------
* motherfucker: Added 1989. Earliest cite 1918: "You low-down Mother Fuckers can put a gun in our hands but who is able to take it out?"
--------------------------
* tit: Not entirely clear to me. The "tit" entry that currently refers to it in the sense of a female breast was added 1912, but it refers to it in other senses too, so I guess it's possible that it didn't include the female breast sense back then. Definition 1a is close - "variant of teat" - but that's really specifically the nipple, not the whole breast. Definition 1b is "A woman's breasts".

Earliest cite for teat: circa 950, "Eadig womb vel hrif seðe ðec gebær & ða titto vel ða breosto ða ðu gediides". Earliest for tit in the sense of a female breast: 1928: "A girl may sit & finger her tits and play with her cunt all day."
posted by Flunkie at 12:06 PM on July 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Has anyone ever actually used this word spontaneously

In a manner of speaking, yes. I was playing Halo 2 Capture the Flag and called a friend a "crusty santorum stain" when he took me out right as I was about to score the game winning point.

Though it wasn't TOTALLY spontaneous, in all honesty. Several minutes prior, another member of my team called an opposing team member "twatspittle santorum guzzler", after which we paused and debated for several minutes whether "santorum guzzler" constitutes an anti-gay epithet or not.
posted by mediocre at 12:08 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Douchemanteau is my new favorite word. Because I am word nerd and a needed a word for all these new fangled words like orcwanker.

Both of those have totally made my Monday less sucky.
posted by sio42 at 12:08 PM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Gropecuntelane

That's Sir Gropecuntelane the Dextrous to you. He was knighted, after all.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:11 PM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Huh - and I was just curious about the "Gropecuntelane" cite, so I googled it. Turns out that "Gropecunt Lane" was the name of various streets in various English towns in the middle ages, now thought to indicate that prostitution went on there. Earliest known record of a street with this name: 1230. Last: 1561.
posted by Flunkie at 12:11 PM on July 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've weaned myself off swearing now to such a point that I do that non-swearer thing where you get all exasperated and can't find anything sweary to say and it comes out something like 'Owwwwwww........wwwww.... bums'
posted by pipeski at 12:12 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The best swear words are primal, gutteral utterences, verbal bludgeons erupting from dark, ancient rage arising from the bowels of all that is unholy! unclean!

They're not inventions, they're experiences!
posted by Twang at 12:12 PM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


fellatrix

Hello new business card
posted by The Whelk at 12:12 PM on July 1, 2013 [22 favorites]


that non-swearer thing where you get all exasperated and can't find anything sweary to say

It's called a "minced oath", like "Aaaaarrgghh KELLY CLARKSON!" in The 40 Year Old Virgin or "Oh hamburgers!" from Butters on South Park.
posted by mediocre at 12:14 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know that it was also promoted by offline media (I think Conan O'Brian had a bit on it?) but taint springs to mind as a relatively recent insult-swear that manages to fall into the anatomical/scatological realm without relying on negative connotations about women or gay men.
posted by kagredon at 12:15 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Say it taint so!
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don’t say “bad”. “Bad” comes from the Old English “bæddel/bædling” which was a slur against effeminate men. Really. I’m not joking.

It seems like, while baeddel was a slur, it's not entirely clear that it is the root for "bad". And yet, this whole thing points to some interesting tensions in the current state of social justice thinking.

If "bad" does derive from a medieval slur, should we stop saying "bad" because we're recalling that slur? Would "bad" be tainted? Is "not gay-gay" the same situation, or does calling someone "gay-meaning-stupid" (and 'stupid' is able-ist) still hinge on unspoken homophobia in a way that "bad" does not hinge on recalling 'baeddel'? Is there a dividing line? If so, what is it? It's very easy to say that language is full of danger and excitement, cross-contamination and change....and then you find yourself accidentally justifying calling someone a re---d.

There's a strain of thought about language, culture and cultural production lately that's really originist in a way that is both troubling and interesting. So, for instance, non-Japanese people should not describe things as "kawaii", because it's culturally appropriative. (I assume that describing something as "kawaii" when actually speaking Japanese would not be offensive.) Non-Native people should not wear headdresses (which seems very clear-cut and easy to understand); non-Scottish people should not wear plaids, which seems a bit trickier to get your head around. And similarly, language that is tainted or dubious in origin shouldn't be used. There's this big concern with finding out an exact, "correct" origin for things and assigning them to that point of origin.

And I don't know what to make of this. Part of me is very concerned about the idea that we're all supposed to be extremely reductionist-historical, looking for easy-to-comprehend historical origins that map neatly onto our current understandings of culture, language and nation - that seems really reactionary to me, and does not seem to reflect the actual ambiguities of human language, culture and experience. At the same time, I don't really have a better argument - I'm pretty confident that I don't want white people to wear headdresses and I don't want people to use racial slurs.
posted by Frowner at 12:17 PM on July 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


backseatpilot: "In today’s modern Galaxy there is, of course, very little still held to be unspeakable[...] "

This whole Belgium bit only appeared in the US version, due to the publisher not wanting to use the word "fuck."
posted by Chrysostom at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know that it was also promoted by offline media (I think Conan O'Brian had a bit on it?) but taint

It was an SNL that Conan hosted in 2000. The sketch is called "Taint-less Ted."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2013


Nice work, kagredon! I've been trying to think of even a single swear or insult that does not have at least SOME basis in an epithet against a race or gender even if it is only through some archaic origin words. Actually led to me and a couple friends sitting down recently and writing down every single curse or epithet we could think of and checking them off one by one as either racial or gender-based, now thats entertaintment.
posted by mediocre at 12:20 PM on July 1, 2013


Moneygrubbing ad-clicker
Shameless greedpig
Filthy Chinaloving Consumerist


Fairly normal words we all recognize, but match 'em to the right sneer and tonal disdain and I think they'll work OK.
posted by carsonb at 12:24 PM on July 1, 2013


Also, in the right circles, tasteless still has a righteous sting to it. Especially in this day and age of infinite options.
posted by carsonb at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This whole Belgium bit only appeared in the US version

It's in the original radio play, also. They just bleeped out some words, if I remember correctly.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


an SNL that Conan hosted in 2000

An? Is there more then 1? Conans main strength is as a host, his acting and stage comedy skills are.. not strong. He guested on an episode of The Single Guy, and it was so oddly bad that it's the only thing I will ever remember about The Single Guy. Everything else he has appeared in, as far as I know, he played himself.
posted by mediocre at 12:26 PM on July 1, 2013


I'll second his plug of Lexicon Valley. That Bob Garfield sure is a rascal.

I'll third it. I don't listen to the show regularly so I'm unable to distinguish the hosts by name. Is Garfield the one who spewed the six-word swear near the end? It was sort of out of the blue (no pun intended) and my ears almost caught on fire.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2013


You know, while we are talking about some quirks of language.. does anyone else here when using the word "a" to refer to a single object say it thusly as I have pretty much 100% of the time since 1992?
posted by mediocre at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


More to the point, isn't there a moment when everyone's forgotten about the origin of the word and just associate it with the modern meaning?

Dunno, this argument always reminds me of people who have recently finished saying something like "oh, but, not like, gay-gay. Like, stupid-gay!"


Dissimilar in this case.

"Gay" is a current, existing word in Modern English which means, well, "gay-gay". To say that something is "gay", in a sense that it is stupid or bad, is to literally communicate that gayness is stupid and/or bad. Even if the speaker using the word "gay" to mean stupid or bad disclaims any consciously homophobic intent, there still lingers the fact that the word "gay" is, well, the word "gay". Someone overhearing that conversation would still come away with the impression that gay people are bad or stupid.

On the other hand, the Modern English word "bad" is a different word than the Old English "bæddel/bædling". Not only that, but Modern English and Old English are different languages, and Old English has not been spoken natively in almost a millennium. In no sense does saying that something is "bad" communicate anything about effeminate men. If two people were talking about something being bad, neither a time-traveling Hrothgar nor a modern-day Professor of Old English would receive any message about effeminate men, because "bad" and "bæddel/bædling" are different words in different languages, separated by centuries.

If "bad" does derive from a medieval slur, should we stop saying "bad" because we're recalling that slur?

If it did derive from a slur, then it matters how long ago and how recognizable that slur is. It matters if speakers and listeners are actually sending and receiving that meaning. It's okay if there's no bright-line rule we can always follow.

Not a soul on this planet would have guessed that "bad" had derived from such a slur unless they had done research on its Old English origins, and even then, the Modern English "bad" is still a different word than the Old English "bæddel/bædling". To deal with this otherwise, to act as if a word could be tainted for reasons outside of anything that word actually communicates, would be to indulge in some extremely silly magical thinking. Using the word "bad" will not magically cause wounds to appear on effeminate men, merely because of what another word in another language had meant several centuries ago.

(FWIW, googling shows that nobody actually knows the etymology of the word "bad" for certain - the effeminate man thing is just one possibility.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:42 PM on July 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


fuse theorem Is Garfield the one who spewed the six-word swear near the end?

That's him. He's generally pretty profane but that last episode was amazing. I loved Slate's disclaimer at the beginning. Garfield is also the co-host of WNYC's On The Media, another fantastic show.
posted by not_the_water at 12:48 PM on July 1, 2013


It'd be nice if we could cross swears with "emergency" commands. Most have an 'O' for the vowel: No, Stop, Move, Now, etc. The O sort of resonates in the lungs much nicer than other vowels, except 'U' perhaps. I think that's why fuck works so well. It hits both at the same time. A third aspect is probably the length of the word. Four letters is sort of the maximum, which is why words like santorum only catch on as sneers (asshole is a more famous example). Since 'O' is underrepresented in the swear category, maybe Fow would work after an injury (Fuck-Ow combo). Adding 'U's to the commands might also work: Stup (St-Up) would be awesome if it wasn't already used to poke fun at people with accents trying to stay Stop.

Lastly, as a Spoonerism producer, consider 'nippy perckles'. It sounds every bit as lewd as perky nipples, and yet is complete nonsense. Cufking awesome, isn't it?
posted by jwells at 12:49 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stop trying to make santorum happen. It's not going to happen.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:51 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm on a (probably never ending, given my lack of success) quest to swear less in public, but so far that has only resulted in me following up a "shit!" or "fuck!" with "sorry!". Sometimes I remember in time and just end up emitting a "FFFfffffff" instead, which works just as well, especially when I'm in pain.

I'm still looking for a replacement for "that's lame" (as in, "You're sick on a holiday Monday? Lame") which itself was a replacement for "that sucks" when that started to sound too immature. Everything that is nicer/less offensive is not sufficiently denigrating to the situation at hand.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:57 PM on July 1, 2013


Flunkie, above, has an idea whose time has come. I think it's time to start seeding "dubya" into conversation as a substitute for "cretin/idiot/airhead/dumbass." Not "asshole," because that's easier for the other side to reclaim as a point of pride, but just generally "inept person."

"I left my card in the machine like a fucking dubya."

"He's all right looking, but when you talk to him you realise he's a total dubya."

"Some dubya was doing 50 in the fast lane."

Let's do it.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:58 PM on July 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Stop trying to make santorum happen.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but "it" already happened. Long ago. I've seen and heard people use the word with its colloquial intent who when questioned had no previous knowledge of Dan Savage or the eponymous politician.
posted by mediocre at 1:01 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Twang: The best swear words are primal, gutteral utterences, verbal bludgeons erupting from dark, ancient rage arising from the bowels of all that is unholy!

I agree.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:02 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this the moment to call for a revival of Major Hoople's "FAP!"
posted by telstar at 1:03 PM on July 1, 2013


I was always surprised Bumpuses didn't become a popular curse word.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:06 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


No one has posted a link to the MeFi Insult Jazz yet?

Other profession related combinations.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:09 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will continue to use Gypsy Dildo Punk, regardless of how un-PC it is. It just feels good.
posted by jetsetsc at 1:10 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always assumed that the modern usage of "taint" came from a contraction of 'it ain't' = 'it isn't' (as in "taint asshole and taint [genital of your choice]") and is derived from Mark Twain's well-known quote: "His money is twice tainted: 'taint yours and 'taint mine."
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:11 PM on July 1, 2013


In the late 90s I was once called a shitass.

That word's been around a lot longer than that. Billy Green Bush calls Jack Nicholson a shitass in Five Easy Pieces.
posted by dobbs at 1:13 PM on July 1, 2013


I find myself calling bad/rude/stupid drivers who almost kill me on my bike commute "dipshit" a lot lately. More often, "Fucking dipshit!!!!!"
posted by misskaz at 1:25 PM on July 1, 2013


I remember a friend of mine calling someone a Fuckpig in a fit of rage. I used that a lot for a while. I once spontaneously called someone a Dickwipe in a road rage moment. I was quite pleased with that as I've never heard it before so I feel like I invented it. But also because it feels quite derogatory to men in a way which most swear words don't. (Two wrongs dont make a right, but hey!)

As a feminist I determinedly used cunt a lot in the past, because how dare society decide that the very worst word there is means vagina. But then a lesbian friend of mine, who was using it in anger, stopped herself and said "I shouldn't be saying that. Cunts are beautiful things." And I agree so I only use it in a descritive sense now. It's a lovely word. It's really satisfying how it leaves your throat, the same sound as cuddle, cat, cushion. It feels like an enveloping word. It's spat out like its ugly, but it's deep and snuggly if you say it slowly.

I fucking love swearing. But where I'm from its not that big a deal. I, and lots of people, use it as kind of filler, and emphasis. I commented here the other day and realised afterwards that it probably looked angry. I'd written "it seemed pretty fucking watertight to me". It dawned on me that that could look kind of angry. To me, "pretty fucking" meant "really". The US always seems more uptight about swearing (crazy generalisation alert). Maybe it's the Puritan thing?
posted by billiebee at 1:31 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let's talk rude!
posted by The otter lady at 1:49 PM on July 1, 2013


For me, "dumb" and "lame" are OK insofar as they aren't used either by or against members of the groups that they etymologically/nominally refer to in modern English. (As far as I know, although I might need to spend some time with corpora to see if I'm biased)

"Wanker" is satisfying, although it doesn't make a bit of sense logically.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2013


I'm pretty fond of "goatfucker" these days.

"Douchecanoe" does fall trippingly off the tongue, though.
posted by Archer25 at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Asshole seems gender (and otherwise) neutral to me. After all, everyone's got one.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:01 PM on July 1, 2013


Ahh, a swearing thread. Perhaps I can be of some assistance! My child of 9 years conspired with his clever and excellent friend to devise a swear word of ample insult and hilarity, but which could also evade the sensors of the censors (Missus_A, myself, friend's mom).

The foul-mouthed prodigies devised a brilliant new swear which I reveal to the public now, for the first time:

Donkey Hole!

Because donkey=ass, as the wise young scatologists discerned. They report that this new swear owes its incredible efficacy to the sub rosa equivalence to "ass-hole," plus it has donkey in it.
posted by Mister_A at 2:07 PM on July 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


There's a pretty big difference between that and a reference to Old English. And "dumb" is somewhere in between, I'd say.

Oh, I totally agree. But there is a vocal contingent of young people out there who seriously argue that because they grew up using the words "gay" or "fag" as all purpose pejoratives, they obviously no longer refer to actual gay people and it isn't homophobic to use them anymore. I think that's horseshit and presumably most people here do too. I just wanted to point out that the argument is more complicated than saying that definitions change with the times and that if most people you know don't consider something an actual slur then it should be OK to use.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:15 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The British magazine Viz has for a number of years now, been publishing a dictionary called the Profanisaurus that is chock full of newly minted as well as older swears. It's in print as a book too. One of the funniest reads I have ever encountered.
posted by njohnson23 at 2:19 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US always seems more uptight about swearing (crazy generalisation alert).

After being warned about my language on the blue, I did wonder about the practicalities of implementing some generalised warning for new users - "Your IP address suggests you are from the UK. Please be aware of the sensibilities of the majority of US users and moderate your language. You know how much you swear around your grandmother and your 90 year old great aunties? Less swearing than that. A lot less. But you can probably get away with wanker."

If you want creative swearing (some of which are not problematic, some of which are), all you really need to do is track responses to tweets from the UK government (sorry, buzzfeed link). I've seen other great ones directed at tories as well, including "cock womble", which is a majestic mental image which comes with its own theme song.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:21 PM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


mediocre: " Or at least young white people, the type who grew up in a world where the internet always existed. For them, the word has no real meaning as an epithet except in some nebulous past that they have no frame of reference to outside of movies they probably will never watch like Roots."

Or, you know, fifteen fucking years ago.
posted by symbioid at 2:25 PM on July 1, 2013


Your IP address suggests you are from the UK.

So, in one of the Austin Powers sequels, Mike Myers and Michael Caine secretly communicate by speaking in Cockney slang, which is subtitled. At one point, they describe a crazy woman as being "at sixes and sevens."

Cute scene, I think.

Fast forward to me, years later, in a London hotel lobby, staring at an article on the cover of the Guardian, which is describing a controversial Parliament budget debate by literally writing "Parliament is at sixes and sevens."

"Holy shit," I think. "That's a real thing that people say? Seriously?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2013


(And as a quick PS the question of where to draw the line between pejorative and slur can be very polarizing, maybe because language usage is such a basic and intuitive process... remember that blow up we had about whether it was homophobic to use "cocksucker" to mean "jerk"?)
posted by en forme de poire at 2:34 PM on July 1, 2013


P.P.S. "Shartstain."
posted by en forme de poire at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2013


"Santorum" is absolutely used as a descriptive term for the mix of fecal matter and lube that is sometimes the biproduct of anal sex when discussing acts that can, if performed wrong, create such a substance. However, I don't think people are yelling "SANTORUM" at each other when they get into drunken fights.

Speaking of Dan Savagisms, there was a bit he did a while back about how almost all anal sex happens between heterosexual couples and that if we really wanted to ban institutional support of anal sex we should ban straight marriage. The same thing applies to oral sex. I understand that people associate anal and oral with gay people, but I always found it odd that people use "cocksucker" as a homophobic remark. It absolutely is intended that way, but it is extremely poorly thought out.

As far as slurs against the upper classes are concerned, "bougie" seemed to be catching on as a sort of substitute for "preppy" for a while. I haven't heard it in some time though.

NOTE ABOUT ORCWANKER: Depending on your mythology, an orcwanker can be someone who is engaging in a sexual exercise in futility because many versions of orcs reproduce via spores or Saruman and (one assumes) lack a sexual organ. You can use "orkwanker" instead to specifically denote this, but orks in the 40k universe are pretty awesome and I generally avoid associating them with my obscenities because seriously anyone who can make something go faster by painting it red could seriously fuck with the figurative dakka of whatever I am saying.
posted by NoraReed at 2:41 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hmm well red is the fastest color. It is known.
posted by Mister_A at 2:45 PM on July 1, 2013


The germans have "Arschgeiger" which translates roughly to "Ass Violin". It's typically used to describe someone who is really annoying.
posted by mr.ersatz at 2:50 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


My dad had a pretty bad temper and would swear a blue streak, but I knew he was really upset when he would resort to calling someone a "dillybastard". I never really found out why, but that seemed, for him, the ultimate deprecation.
posted by DaddyNewt at 2:50 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't say there is much by way of new material, but you could take inspiration from the delivery
posted by timsteil at 2:53 PM on July 1, 2013


I think it's hard to intro new swearwords because the old ones seem to be coded in the brain during childhood— and they are actually coded differently than ordinary language. (This is why you can have strokes that spare cursing, but impair other language). With enough repetition, however, you might be able to train in new ones.
posted by Maias at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, I totally agree. But there is a vocal contingent of young people out there who seriously argue that because they grew up using the words "gay" or "fag" as all purpose pejoratives, they obviously no longer refer to actual gay people and it isn't homophobic to use them anymore. I think that's horseshit and presumably most people here do too. I just wanted to point out that the argument is more complicated than saying that definitions change with the times and that if most people you know don't consider something an actual slur then it should be OK to use.

Really, though, as much as that totally is horseshit, how long has "gay" primarily meant homosexual to the general public? Forty, fifty years? And how long has it meant "dumb"? Twenty? There were plenty of people in the seventies who were miffed that it didn't mean "carefree" or "showy" anymore. Words change, meanings shift. Sunrise, sunset.

But then, I've never felt particularly possessive of the word, for one thing because it was mainly used in the pejorative sense throughout my formative years (which is horseshit, but it is what it is), and especially because it's based on a pretty egregious stereotype of flighty flamboyance that's reinforced every time the word is used.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2013


I don't know, what the article fails to really touch on is the use of curse words as emotional modifiers or intensifiers, which is how I use them, mostly. It's one thing to ask, "what are you doing?" and quite another to ask "what the ever-loving fuck are you doing?" While there are many curse words specifically designed as pejorative, derogatory, offensive or outright hateful (and they can certainly be used in conjunction with intensifying cursing), that's only one strain of cussing.

billiebee: "I remember a friend of mine calling someone a Fuckpig in a fit of rage. "

Pigfucker is one of my favorite insults. As in, "Dick Cheney is a real pigfucker".
posted by Red Loop at 3:09 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recall a lot of comment on this news item from 2007 emerging from "asstunnel". I still make occasional use of that.
posted by comealongpole at 3:10 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pigfucker is one of my favorite insults

Thanks, ill be adding that to my list. And you're correct, he is.
But I think the joy of fuckpig is that, unlike in pigfucker - where the subject is fucking a pig - it's like, in some twisted way, they are the pig. (Is that piggist?)
posted by billiebee at 3:45 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: Hostile language is often invented by people with power and privilege. Having a strong sense of your own superiority plus impunity is a good place from which to begin throwing stones.

[...]
Stop trying to make santorum happen.
mediocre: Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but "it" already happened. Long ago. I've seen and heard people use the word with its colloquial intent who when questioned had no previous knowledge of Dan Savage or the eponymous politician.

This is an interesting juxtaposition.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:53 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have thought for a while that the time is ripe for the name of Hitler to be incorporated into the canon of swearwords; i.e., “I can't believe that, what a wankhitler”.

Hitler works in this context because his evil is a nonpartisan point of agreement; anything else (Stalin, Cheney, what have you) is weakened by the smugness of partisanship.
posted by acb at 4:01 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hitler works in this context because his evil is a nonpartisan point of agreement

You'd think, wouldn't you? Witness this exchange I had in real life on Twitter recently. (It's on topic as pleasingly I swore in response. As you would.)
posted by billiebee at 4:11 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, though, as much as that totally is horseshit, how long has "gay" primarily meant homosexual to the general public? Forty, fifty years? And how long has it meant "dumb"? Twenty?

But IME, during most of the time that people were using "gay"/"fag" to mean "dumb," it meant "dumb" because it meant "homosexual." We haven't reached the stage where those meanings have become totally separated. And actually, I think it's not a given that we ever will, especially now that fairly neutral uses of the word like "gay rights" and "gay marriage" and "gays in the military" have become pretty common.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:15 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, among people who aren't extremists or trolls. What I'm saying is that hyperbolically using Hitler as a benchmark for shittiness doesn't have the claustrophobic aura of dogmatic correctness that comparing someone to, say, Pinochet or Mao would (let along Thatcher or Obama).
posted by acb at 4:19 PM on July 1, 2013


"Neville Chamberlain" is also a pretty good insult. My mom used to use that one on that cat when it refused to go after this annoying-ass cardinal that kept waking her up at 4 am.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:26 PM on July 1, 2013


It also seems unlikely that "gay" as "bad" without homophobic connotations is unlikely to pick up considering that "gay" and "lesbian" test considerably better than "homosexual" when used on surveys; people are much more OK with having gay neighbors than homosexual ones for some reason. Also, 90% of the people who say "I don't mean as in, like, having sex with other people of the same gender, I meant as in BAD" are a) children b) adults in a state of arrested development who still act like children c) homophobes or d) some combination of the above.
posted by NoraReed at 4:32 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


[fixed attribution error, please quote carefully folks.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:36 PM on July 1, 2013


While in college in the early nineties, when language issues exploded, I decided to come up with a new vulgarity to both fill a niche (where can you go after you've exhausted "motherfucker?") and to address political concerns (man, is there any profanity that you can use that isn't going to cross some line that you didn't intend to?) Plus, it needed to be fun to say, the sort of thing that flies out of your mouth after you whack your thumb with a hammer. "Cotton-headed ninnymuggins" wouldn't cut it.

The word I used was "Nantucket," because the word is fun to say and also fuck that place. Its new meaning was "engaging in sexual relations with the remains of one's deceased grandmother."

The repurposing never took hold of the public imagination.

A noble failure.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 4:37 PM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just want to say that I genuinely love swearing. I love that Dick Cheney is accorded his due in this thread. That's all I got.
posted by theora55 at 4:48 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The very poor and the very rich (two classes that continue to grow in our present economic situation) have always been comfortable and blatant in their swearing. Swearing bares no risk if you don’t have anything to lose or are so well-heeled that there is no one else in the room that you need to impress.

So very true. There are some demographics, that, when they start dropping the f-bomb, sound like they're posing, no matter how angry they are.

For what it's worth, the f-bomb has always felt associated with sexual violence in my mind. I wish I didn't use it. I also weep for all the times when the f-bomb is used as an adjective, because it probably displaced a better, more descriptive word that could have been used.

And now I'm decrying lazy language use, and I'm not even fifty. Yet. What is it about our aging brains that generates this false nostalgia?
posted by mecran01 at 5:07 PM on July 1, 2013


There's a strain of thought about language, culture and cultural production lately that's really originist in a way that is both troubling and interesting....And similarly, language that is tainted or dubious in origin shouldn't be used. There's this big concern with finding out an exact, "correct" origin for things and assigning them to that point of origin.

I've noticed this too. Personally, I think those people need to give up their crusade against a word unless they can show that an average person who doesn't take an interest in these things would:
  1. answer the question "Could someone understand [word] as racist/sexist/whatever?" with "yes."
  2. can correctly identify why it is so
Jipped and hysterical fail this test, so they're probably OK. Gay doesn't.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:07 PM on July 1, 2013


"Neville Chamberlain" is also a pretty good insult. My mom used to use that one on that cat when it refused to go after this annoying-ass cardinal that kept waking her up at 4 am.

Yeah, I know the feeling. There's this raven in my neighborhood that keeps invading Poland.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:10 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've noticed this too. Personally, I think those people need to give up their crusade against a word unless they can show that an average person who doesn't take an interest in these things would:


1. answer the question "Could someone understand [word] as racist/sexist/whatever?" with "yes."
2. can correctly identify why it is so


Saying that ignorance makes demeaning language OK is a terrible argument.
posted by kagredon at 5:25 PM on July 1, 2013


That article was about as useful as nun's nipple.
posted by plinth at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2013


Saying that ignorance makes demeaning language OK is a terrible argument.

And it's not really the one I was trying to make. Language isn't demeaning unless it's understood to be. If people, in general, no longer understand a word to be offensive, then it isn't.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:53 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that racism/sexism/etc. is often invisible to people that don't experience it. The fact that an average person may not know the history of "gypped" doesn't mean that "gypped" doesn't harm people.
posted by kagredon at 6:00 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Personally, I think those people need to give up their crusade against a word unless they can show that an average person who doesn't take an interest in these things would:
  1. answer the question "Could someone understand [word] as racist/sexist/whatever?" with "yes."
  2. can correctly identify why it is so
The tricky thing to my mind is that unfortunately, the average person is not always clued into the experiences of minorities. I'm not sure if even a decade ago the word "tranny" would have been on the average person's radar as demeaning - I mean it was part of Christian Siriano's catchphrase in the late 2000s (although he's apparently apologized since and is now trying not to say it). So I'm not sure we can just appeal to the majority here - at least not to answer the question "should people say it," as opposed to "do people say it."
posted by en forme de poire at 6:02 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back on topic, it's insane, this guy's taint.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:08 PM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


That babyfisting dubya needss a cheneyfacing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:36 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's never going to be an exact test to determine okayness. That said, "would a quorum of members of the targeted class find this word to be offensive?" seems like a pretty good starting place.

For example, I would handily bet that most Roma/gypsies would find "gypped" to be offensive. I don't know if a majority of women would find "hysterical" to be offensive, but I'd say that there would be at least a quorum of offended women. I would also bet that barely one in ten million so-called "effeminate men" would find the word "bad" to be offensive.

There are plenty of ways for this rubric to break down, but it's a pretty good starting point. Note that it doesn't have much to do with the speaker's intent, as plenty of words can be offensive without anyone intending them to be, but neither does it have anything to do with a word having some sort of secret history which neither a speaker nor a listener would be aware of (or care about).
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:37 PM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is what happens, Larry.
posted by rifflesby at 6:49 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, fifteen fucking years ago.

I understand what you are saying, that the word is still incredibly venomous and filled with a history of suffering.

But these kids of which I speak, well first off.. 15 years ago is still older then a lot of the crowd of whom I am generalizing.. but raised in a society where the word is incredibly common as a filler word and a term of comradery and endearment, particularly in music, and growing up in a socially networked online society.. it simply does not have the intensity that it did for people of previous generations. It's impossible to deny, and whether or not you agree with it (I personally will never be comfortable with it) the word has been effectively declawed. No, not to you, not to me, and not to anyone over a certain age.. but it has.
posted by mediocre at 7:03 PM on July 1, 2013


PC insults are easy.

Noun-Verbers:
Rent-seeker
Union-buster
One-Percenter
Yacht-Clubber
War-crimer
Veteran-slimer
Rape-defender
Victim-blamer
Race-baiter
Woman-hater
Movement-traitor
Poor-Ignorer

Portmanteau:
Bankster
Libtard
Chauvinazi
Frenemy

Others:
Legacy-admission
Plutocrat
Racist
Misogynist
Rape-apologist
Hipster

It doesn't really matter what you say, so long as you say it with contempt or condescension.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:11 PM on July 1, 2013


elizardbits: "goatgroper"

Hey!

Wait ... so this isn't about pointing fingers?
posted by krinklyfig at 7:12 PM on July 1, 2013


THE GREATEST INSULT TO OTHERS IS FOR ME TO CONTINUE LIVING
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:16 PM on July 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't think it's useful to generalize how a whole generation of under-15 kids will view a word. When I was a young teen (in the faraway time known as "the early 2000s") use of "gay" and "fag" as insults--and quite venomous ones, at that--was rampant, and it's now a usage that tends to draw a "dude, really?" kind of response from most people.
posted by kagredon at 7:16 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am so, so glad the word fuck is not racist.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to nominate 'shitlord' as the best new insult of the last decade. It's evocative and fun to say!
posted by Gin and Comics at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2013


mediocre: "You know, while we are talking about some quirks of language.. does anyone else here when using the word "a" to refer to a single object say it thusly as I have pretty much 100% of the time since 1992?"

I do, in the same way that Wayne does in the aforementioned link: to emphasize that, contrary to an implication, there is zero of something rather than several.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:35 PM on July 1, 2013


mmm...

"libtard" is most certainly UN-pc.
posted by symbioid at 8:02 PM on July 1, 2013


krinklyfig: "elizardbits: "goatgroper"

Hey!

Wait ... so this isn't about pointing fingers?
"

No. Hooves.
posted by symbioid at 8:02 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fucking everyone on the goddam Internet has over-discuss like fucking everything! Swearing is a visceral, not a cerebral activity. For chrissakes, just let it roll on out... Scorch the world with your bile! And fuck inventing new swear words... The only swear words that matter and work are those that are based on things that are so basic they can't be reinvented. Fuck this newspeak bullshit!
posted by midnightscout at 8:20 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


No. Hooves.

I thought we agreed not to bring up that camping trip.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:33 PM on July 1, 2013


en forme de poire said:
"annoying-ass cardinal
that kept waking her up at 4 am"

Soooo wonderfully close to
'annoying ass-cardinal'.

Ass-cardinals are as infuriatingly
bothersome as fucktits.
(Which range from Massachusetts
down the Atlantic coast
all the way to Florida.)
posted by pickles_have_souls at 8:37 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Swearing and cursing are small stress releases. When you take something someone uses and tell them they can't, they stumble looking for a curse and become more stressed.

They're obscenities, let them lie as obscenities. There are much better ways of determining as to whether someone is homophobic or racist (like if they drive the bus past one person in favor of another behind the first guy, sales persons who twinge at you, taxis, etc).
posted by Slackermagee at 8:48 PM on July 1, 2013


Swear words refer to things repressed or stigmatized by a dominant group. We don't have progressive swear words because the left likes to be on the margins, and has no plans for being dominant.
posted by AlsoMike at 9:19 PM on July 1, 2013


When you take something someone uses and tell them they can't, they stumble looking for a curse and become more stressed.

good point! after all, it's not like hearing racist or homophobic stuff is stressful for the people who have to listen to it
posted by en forme de poire at 9:31 PM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


If words like stupid, idiot, dumb and moron are ableist,* then what do you have left to refer to somebody who is being sickeningly unclever? At some point you just have to say 'no, that root is too far back and too obscure for anyone to be feasably hurt by it, and I have no good alternatives, and so I will use this word.'

*Actually, I was told 'moron' was racist, not ableist, but this was just a couple of people on Tumblr and absolutely nobody else has ever got on my case about it or showed any sign of it traumatising them, so I still use that word.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 9:52 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the days of slow modems and garbled characters:

assword:
posted by tservo at 10:33 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are not creating a new swear word if all you are doing is combining "ass" or "fuck" with another word to make it compound.

"Motherfucker" is a legitimate curse word, true, but it's grandfathered into the cannon. And no one is going to come up with something new that can ever come close to the elegance, power and taboo of that wonderful word. Motherfucker is the Beatles of swears, while asswipe, fuckface and goatfucker will never go further than playing weddings and bar mitzvahs.
posted by riruro at 10:49 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Motherfucker" — I shake it up sometimes by saying motherfister, just because motherfucker is so commonly used that we no longer have any image or meaning attached to it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:58 PM on July 1, 2013


It seems offline now but there was an email lifted from a sobriety email list about something called the "fuckit switch."

The former drunk who wrote the email used to silently say the words, "fuckit" before going to buy alcohol. He had to learn to become acutely conscious whenever he heard that shifter run across his stream of thought. And to defuse the cursing.

I hate cursing. Even among those great folks who don't take it seriously, there is a debasing of purpose. Some part of the brain stays literal among all the fucks, shits, &such. It sucks in all the shit people say, and curdles.
posted by saber_taylor at 11:01 PM on July 1, 2013


Shazbot is prob. safe, unless you run into Robin Williams.
posted by tservo at 11:17 PM on July 1, 2013


"Liberal" is a relatively new slur/insult used by approx. 50% of the US population. Liberals just haven't gotten the message or feel the insult, but it's there in a way Santorum will never be.
posted by three blind mice at 11:25 PM on July 1, 2013


motherfister

Little offends me, but I can't take the sexual violence of that mental image. Kind of reassuring to know I have a limit.
posted by billiebee at 1:30 AM on July 2, 2013


Chrysostom: "Asshole"

Ahem, insensitive clod, etc.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:53 AM on July 2, 2013


billiebee: "motherfister

Little offends me, but I can't take the sexual violence of that mental image. Kind of reassuring to know I have a limit
"

There's nothing violent about fisting as a sexual act.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:53 AM on July 2, 2013


There's nothing violent about fisting as a sexual act.

Even if doing it to your mother?
posted by billiebee at 2:01 AM on July 2, 2013


billiebee: "There's nothing violent about fisting as a sexual act.

Even if doing it to your mother
"

Hypothetically, if your mother's cool with it, I don't see how the family relationship would make a sex act suddenly "violent".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:57 AM on July 2, 2013


Saying that ignorance makes demeaning language OK is a terrible argument.

It's the only argument. If a word has a demeaning origin but that meaning becomes archaic or obscure, it ceases to be demeaning. For a word to be demeaning either the person using it or the person hearing it must understand it to be so. Meaning changes over time through usage.
posted by Diablevert at 4:04 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hypothetically, if your mother's cool with it, I don't see how the family relationship would make a sex act suddenly "violent"

I get what you're saying. However I guess my impression is that calling someone a motherfister arises out of some form of anger or frustration. The violence in the act is inherent in the delivery, IMO. I realise fisting can take place in a loving way between two consenting adults. Call me cynical, but I don't think that's the image conjured up by using it in this context. "You're a motherfister. Which is cool as you two obviously love each other very much and fisting is fun. Carry on!"
posted by billiebee at 4:26 AM on July 2, 2013


Stop trying to make santorum happen.

If I had a nickel for every time I've been told that...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:55 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Swear words of certain types arise from a different part of the brain than other words. They are exclamations. (Some one else above mentioned this too.) So it seems to me that to find workable swear words you have to start with the swear words as exclamations.

Time to start happily theorizing....

For example the word Shit!! is neurological the same as the words Ick! Ugh! and Yuck! It's a one word vocalization that you've stepped in something to alert the rest of the band that rhinos cross the road here and they had better look down and employ fancy footwork.

The word Fuck! has two meanings which makes it even more apt to burst from the throat. One meaning goes with the teeth clenching snarl of "Fuck you!" being a threat, and the other goes with the miserable announcement "oh fuck..." meaning "Something bad is happening to me..." Again these verbalizations are meant to be involuntary. We have them so that we can preserve the other members of the band by announcing what kind of trouble we are in, so that they can tiptoe away un-noticed. Whenever we yell we may do so at risk to ourselves.

In this way, to find good new swear words you want to start with verbalizations that mean those three things. You could quite easily be understood and train yourself and others to yell "Puke! Piss! Jizz! Spunk!" or any other short word that means "something you really don't want to find sticking to yourself". There may indeed be contexts where you might be quite happy to be intimate with sticky bodily fluids of other people, but rare indeed is the individual who tolerates the sticky bodily fluid of all other people.

It used to be that Damn could be used with as much offense as Fuck. That was when a large enough percentage of the population actually spent some time fearing and avoiding damnation. To find a swear word to replace fuck you need to think of something you could do to another person or that could be done to you that would be equally devastating. Many people can shrug off a punch so for example, "Punch you!" is not going to sound very forceful if you use it in the locker room but could be considered quite offensive if used by an irritated adult on a nursery school tot. It would quite rightfully be considered too close to a serious threat of violence in the second context, and wimpy in the first.

Fuck really expresses either a threat to rape another person, or an alert that you are in a situation commensurate with being raped. It does promote rape culture... but it's also hardwired in us to have some impulse to rape and some fear of being raped, so fuck is not likely to drop out of the lexicon unless we can find a decent threat that replaces it. Unfortunately damnation has had its day and I have to think hard to find something equally harmful as the threat of rape.

I believe there is an unsavoury custom in parts of Italy to hurt and humiliate someone by stabbing them in the buttocks. Let us suppose that this practice becomes labeled with a slang term to prag.

Once the definition of prag is known the word would work nicely creating "Prag off! Prag you!" and "Oh, Prag me!" Note that the shortness of the word is helpful to make it into a swear word, as are the harsher consonants that make the word more explosive. The original (made up) form of the Italian work, pragadoccioamarante just wouldn't do because you'd still be short of the -arante suffix when you lost steam and impact. You could then come up with pragadoccioparlo to describe the ineffectual sort of person who uses lame swear words. The fact that it's such a long word means that you extend the squirming time of the person on whom you use it, making the impact much more humiliating as you enunciate each syllable slowly and sadly while shaking your head.

Now of course I have no clue what the real word Italian word to describe butt stabbing is, but my made-up example is there to explain what kind of parameters a swear word would have to fit, in order to become popular. The big problem here is that if you managed to somehow make pragging a word in general vocabulary, you would also promote prag culture and people would be turning up in Emerg bleeding from the seat of the trousers.

Some words are going to be politically incorrect no matter what you do. Take Ho and Fag. The invective meaning of those terms are "A female with whom you do not wish to raise a child" and "The kind of guy who avoids a fight" Both of those types of individuals will continue to exist and to be despised. When you are rounding up the troops to get into a punch-up, mothers and grandmamas and little kids are exempt, but any adult male who pleads a tendency to nosebleeds to get out of it is going to raise your ire, and you will insult him by comparing him to a female. It's not per se that being female and feminine is so bad, it's that the other gang has already crossed our border and we need help now and we would rather the lactating females escape with the babies instead of joining the punch up and maybe getting killed, We will be quite cross with any hapless male coward holding the starving baby trying to explain why he deserved to live more than the kid's mother did.

After all, gay guys are not particularly effeminate. The word Bear is understood to mean a hairy gay guy, but is seldom used as a put down by anyone except those who are seeking twinks. To insult the guy who cut into line in front of you by exclaiming "You bear!" is just not going to work and at worst will elicit a happy and cocky smile from the wrong-doer.

It's also worth noting that the word "Mother" is a swear word. Its a distress cry. In dire trouble you yell for help involuntarily. Mother is a common last word of somebody dying suddenly. It adds emphasis when used as a swear word, making the word fucker that much more harsh when turned into motherfucker. In many Catholic based cultures Mother of God is a strong swear word.

The word God is a swear word for the same reason as mother. My father would come out with "Oh God.... our help in ages past!" Thus turning a swear word into a hymn as a way of making it less offensive. We're regarded as irreligious if we say God when we stub our toe but devoted if the name of God is the last word off our lips when we die.


When I was a kid the word "Police!" was a very mild swear word you could use to indicate you were in trouble, usually in the form of "Oh help, Murder, Police!" This was a survival from a much earlier tradition. In our current culture you couldn't use the word Police as an analogue of mother. Police do not have the same reputation they did in the 1920's which is I think when that word would have been current. As a kid the insult bastard was effective - my older sister was born a mere two years too late to have the word Batard stamped diagonally in red across her birth certificate. Being a bastard meant something in those days. It excluded you from inheritance legally and implied a lot more. Meanwhile Bitch and son-of-a-bitch were far milder. Bitch and sow were mildly mean things to say about a woman. Calling a woman a bitch was a lot less insulting that calling her a hooker or a slut. That doesn't seem to be true now, probably because bitch has dropped out of use as a description of a one's favourite and beloved dog.

Good swear words fit the mouth nicely. Fuck! come out of the lips as a snarl of rage. Llonger swear words work better if they have a rhythm. "What is this? A fucking Santorum-forum?!" can be said with nice emphasis. Santorum is not a particularly easy word to say, and it helps to be familiar with hearing it before someone from a different country is going to hazard it during a moment of stress. Adding the word forum makes it easier to say. For this reason your new swear words are going to want to have repeated sounds and be easy to say, for example, N*gg** with the syllable break between the two g's.

In Quebec where I grew up you had additional words to draw on. If you were English and wanted to swear forcefully and not offend your English peers your swore in French. If you were French you swore in English. When I was growing up the word "fuck" could fly from French lips without annoying Maman, and the words chalice , tabernacle and hostie could be dropped by an anglophone as early as middle school without a detention. As a result of this cross cultural usage I original theorized that hostie meant whore, because I heard it used the same way, primarily as an insult to women. In fact it means "host wafer"

My mother's most dangerous swear word was Chalim. It was a way of saying Chalice but watered down so that she was saying Gosh instead of God, or Sugar instead of Shit. Fed up she would say, Chalim-de-bim-bam-bim. That word was a signal that Mum was starting to lose control and a wise child would tiptoe out of sight. Notice the rhythm in it though. She said it as Chalim when she was particularly angry; the crosser she was the longer the aw syllable until it was lengthened into a gutteral snarl. If it came out sounding as Caw-aw-lim, we kids knew to expect physical violence. So it doesn't matter how mild a word actually if it is pushed out with enough force and emotion.

The French in Quebec being quite devote used taboo words for swear words, All three of the words I used as examples were objects of intense veneration. Using them out of context was sacrilege; The more pristine the concept the fouler it was to use it. - Kind of like taking God's name in vain.

So what is an object of intense veneration that we are not allowed to refer to casually? Possibly the genital of an extremely immature female. But that would be too foul to use unless you were trying to offend the on-lookers. Pretty much all circles would regard references to toddler genitals as inappropriate or threats against the children of your opponent. Chalice and Tabernacle worked because the Quiet Revolution was going on and the young people in Quebec had lost their faith and joined the FLQ. They didn't offend each other by using religious words but could use them to bring an older person to head-boiling fury.



Rather than find cute words like Santorum and Saddleback and shoehorning the meaning on them, you might get your swear words by starting with the concepts - Rescuer, holy object, filth, severe harm, despised person and so on and finding words that already mean that but are not commonly used in that way. SARS, for example, could be a word meaning severe harm. It already means a frequently lethal illness, so you could wish sars upon someone; Anyone hearing you use it would understand that you were expressing a wish that you could infect them with something that would make them die of diarrhea.

You can use anything as a swear word and the listeners will get the meaning from context - like the famous, "Fuck it! The fucking fucker's fucked!" but the other way around. As a teenager I started dropping curses in other languages because they were only offensive to people of that other culture and normally offended nobody. This did not go over well if I encountered someone from the supposedly obscure culture, as when I used to go around grumbling that various things were dog's pricks and walrus pricks in Russian. Meet one Russian and stammering apologies cannot extricate you from the icy disapproval.

But I cunningly reasoned that if Hren moryovya made itself understood as foreign swearing by context, all I needed to do was speak in a foreign language and it didn't matter what I actually said. I ended up taking my most frequent swear words from snippets of German I had learned from various sources such as a first aid kit and a cookie box. Zum notgebrach sounded quite threatening. Das sind die lieben ganchen gave pause to those who heard it and bitterly spitting out of Bastel dir eine bidlerbuch! was so coarse that no one ever asked me what it meant. (Use as required! Look at all the pretty geese! Build yourself a picture book!)

I also took the trouble to learn to swear in American sign language and learned fuck off and piss off. Oddly the most emphatic and nasty phrase I could come up with in sign language was "Good Morning" It looked so venomous it never failed to relieve my feelings and leave me shaking with laughter.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:45 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Take Ho and Fag. The invective meaning of those terms are "A female with whom you do not wish to raise a child" and "The kind of guy who avoids a fight" Both of those types of individuals will continue to exist and to be despised. When you are rounding up the troops to get into a punch-up, mothers and grandmamas and little kids are exempt, but any adult male who pleads a tendency to nosebleeds to get out of it is going to raise your ire, and you will insult him by comparing him to a female.

Holy fuck.
posted by billiebee at 6:55 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


BREAKING: OBAMA DECLARES PUNCH-UP
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:17 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


For swearing with more true conviction than anybody else can muster, you can't beat a Scot.

it sucks cock so deep, the bell end's wearing your appendix as a little hat
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh the joy of Malcom Tucker! Although that's not swearing, so much as art.
posted by billiebee at 8:06 AM on July 2, 2013


Fuck really expresses either a threat to rape another person, or an alert that you are in a situation commensurate with being raped. It does promote rape culture

That's a pretty narrow reading of fuck, and I don't think it's well supported. Fuck has been posited as perhaps the one swear which can replace every part of speech. When you're using "fucking" as an adjectival intensifier, does it evoke the sex act sense of the word? Is it meant to? I would say no. Depending on context, it can act as a synonym for most or very or best or worst, or simply to add emphasis. Fuckin' A, right?
posted by Diablevert at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


If words like stupid, idiot, dumb and moron are ableist,* then what do you have left to refer to somebody who is being sickeningly unclever?

I don't know about you but "sickeningly unclever" seems like a perfectly serviceable substitute. My way of approaching ableism in insults is to look at what it is that I'm actually trying to communicate. So often we use these ableist terms as a shortcut to avoid articulating what, specifically, we have a problem with. When someone says they can't go fly a kite with you the cop-out response is "that's lame" but what you really mean is "don't be a party-pooper" or "You're no fun". Most of the time when we call somebody "dumb" what we're actually talking about are the ideas that they put forward or a decision they made. And no, changing from "you're dumb" to "that's a dumb idea" doesn't cut it either. Smart people have terrible ideas all the time and PWD, including intellectual disabilities, have great ideas and should be listened to. If the idea needs to be debunked do that, if you really are trying to say that the person has some kind of cognitive, intellectual or developmental disability or dysfunction then seriously reconsider using that to put them down.

Personally I don't like insulting people much in general so when someone does something worthy of being called-out and insulted I feel like it is my responsibility to make sure that my insults are targeted with precision on the exact thing that they have done to warrant it. If my insult is so non-specific as to only amounts to "you are bad, just like [socially oppressed group]" then I've failed in really addressing what it is that they've done wrong and I've done collateral damage to that group of oppressed people in the process. The added benefit of avoiding general insults is that well targeted insults often have a much greater impact. Saying a business decision is 'moronic' doesn't have the same bite as saying that it is 'laughably ill-considered and potentially ruinous'. Both say "that's a bad idea" but one says "that's like an idea a [intellectually disabled person] would have and the other says "It's bad because you didn't think it through and don't know what you are doing".

I recognize that my being able to be so picky about this is, at least in part, a product of my privilege. That because I am not directly the targeted by oppression and systemic disadvantage that I am better equipped to step back from the visceral anguish of the moment that cries out for verbal shortcuts and catchall invectives. Also, I get that we'll never get to a point where we can act in a way that does not harm or oppress people in some ways (because our privilege obscures this harm) but we can strive to interrogate our words and actions to limit that harm and that's what I try to work towards. So the next time you feel the need to use an ableist word to degrade someone please think about whether you might be able to critique their idea or action in more precise terms or, if you are in fact implying that they are mentally inferior, consider the implications of that as a way to demean them. And for fuck-sake when someone from an oppressed group say "this word hurts me" take them at their word instead of arguing etymology.
posted by metaphorever at 8:43 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


rebent: I'm stealing your perfect accidental suggestion:

fog, botch, nogger, slot, rotord

Those are brilliant.
posted by I-baLL at 8:51 AM on July 2, 2013


Where are the farts?

Fartbrain, fartface, fartsoul, fartthought, your fartness, fart-family
posted by oceanjesse at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The kind of guy who avoids a fight"...When you are rounding up the troops to get into a punch-up, mothers and grandmamas and little kids are exempt, but any adult male who pleads a tendency to nosebleeds to get out of it is going to raise your ire, and you will insult him by comparing him to a female.

Except for all the times they aren't. Women and children frequently fight and die in wars, and always have. We had a post here not long ago about women who put on male garb and went to war. And of course we know the tragic history of child soldiers used in modern times; there is no reason to think that hasn't happened before, either.

The myth of primordial Heroic Man defending his trembling, weak family has always been that...a myth. Which makes needing a slur for "pretending to be too weak to fight, like a woman is" more than a little problematic.

We do have a perfectly good non-homophobic/sexist term for people who fake weakness or disability to get out of something unpleasant: malingerer.
posted by emjaybee at 9:58 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


In the late 90s I was once called a shitass.

Such an elegant cursed portmanteau
....

Once popular in Idaho in the 50s, when I was in grade school, along with pissant.

As in Why, I ain't seen this little shitass since he was kneehigh to a pissant!
posted by y2karl at 10:30 AM on July 2, 2013


We do have a perfectly good non-homophobic/sexist term for people who fake weakness or disability to get out of something unpleasant: malingerer.

Why, prithee and forsooth, but thy archaic term of oppprobium is four, if not six syllables too long.
posted by y2karl at 10:37 AM on July 2, 2013


What an arseclot.
posted by Decani at 10:45 AM on July 2, 2013


Malinger not noxiously like some ventral orificial vapour.
posted by y2karl at 10:58 AM on July 2, 2013


And fuck inventing new swear words... The only swear words that matter and work are those that are based on things that are so basic they can't be reinvented.

Yes.

Motherfucker is the Beatles of swears, while asswipe, fuckface and goatfucker will never go further than playing weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Yes!

Fucknuggets and douchecanoes feel downright goofy to me. Even one extra element makes swearing sound LESS profane almost every time, and still you get people wanting to go on for entire pantpinching paragraphs - as if that will make it better. Twee, cutesy foolishness.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:02 PM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


When you're using "fucking" as an adjectival intensifier, does it evoke the sex act sense of the word? Is it meant to?

Yes, and yes. Every time. That's why it intensifies the adjective. It intensifies the adjective by explicitly stating that the adjective is as intense as forcible sexual penetration.

Depending on context, it can act as a synonym for most or very or best or worst, or simply to add emphasis. Fuckin' A, right?

Indeed. Just as you added emphasis to that sentence by comparing it to forced sexual penetration of an anus.
posted by The World Famous at 12:37 PM on July 2, 2013


I've never seen any sort of etymological history (apart from that almost certainly apocryphal "for unlawful carnal knowledge" garbage) that indicates "fuck" is specifically denoting rape instead of sex. Let alone that "Fucking A" is a reference to anal rape, rather than, for example, being derived from "A-OK" or "bringing one's A-game" or similar. Does anyone know of any research on the topic?
posted by kagredon at 12:48 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


We do have a perfectly good non-homophobic/sexist term for people who fake weakness or disability to get out of something unpleasant: malingerer.

Or "coward."
posted by en forme de poire at 2:04 PM on July 2, 2013


It intensifies the adjective by explicitly stating that the adjective is as intense as forcible sexual penetration.

I don't think this is correct because it's not how intensifiers work. You could substitute "goddamn" for "fucking" anywhere (or "tabernacle," as the Quebecois do) and it would have exactly the same meaning. "You're goddamn right!" and "You're fucking right!" don't even make sense if you take them literally, but they're both perfectly valid usages. I think this is just about sex and blasphemy being taboo and shocking.

The origins of "fuckin' a" have apparently been lost to the mists of time but probably have nothing to do with forced sexual penetration of an anus. And here again, it would be nonsensical to evoke that in the context of agreeing with someone, which is the normal usage.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:21 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, and yes. Every time. That's why it intensifies the adjective. It intensifies the adjective by explicitly stating that the adjective is as intense as forcible sexual penetration.

I refute it thus: I don't think about sex, at all, when using the word fucking as an intensifier. Are you prepared to assert that you can read my mind? Also, fucking is not synonymous with rape; I don't think you can use the word forcible to define it. Unless you merely mean vigorous.
posted by Diablevert at 2:27 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"You're goddamn right!" and "You're fucking right!" don't even make sense if you take them literally, but they're both perfectly valid usages.

They're both hyperbolic illustrations comparing how right you are to the most extreme situations imaginable (i.e. rape and damnation).
posted by The World Famous at 2:31 PM on July 2, 2013


Why do you keep equating "fuck" with "rape" and not "sex"?
posted by billiebee at 2:32 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do you keep equating "fuck" with "rape" and not "sex"?

That's my understanding and interpretation of the term, derived primarily from its usage as an insulting command. There are certainly some usages that do not carry that aspect of the meaning, though.
posted by The World Famous at 2:39 PM on July 2, 2013


To answer your question more directly: I don't keep equating "fuck" with "rape" and not "sex." I have, twice now, commented on particular usages that I contend to carry the implication of forcible sexual penetration. I do not equate the word with that usage in every instance. I do think the specific examples on which I've commented carry that implication.
posted by The World Famous at 2:41 PM on July 2, 2013


Rape appears nowhere in the OED definition of "fucking." One definition merely reads that it is an intensifier and another reads that it can also mean "That engages or is engaged in sexual intercourse. Also: used during sexual activity or for sexual gratification." I think bringing rape into this is a pretty idiosyncratic interpretation and not one that is likely to be widely shared.

Ultimately there is really no reason that intensifiers have to be linked to the literal meaning of the word. When a Quebecois person says "this tabernacle of a train is late" they are not comparing the train to a tabernacle in any meaningful way, it's just that you're not supposed to say the word "tabernacle" and so doing it is shocking. Similarly, when you say "that car's the shit" or "I'm sure as shit" there is no meaningful comparison to be drawn to defecating, you're just not supposed to say the word "shit" so it ups the volume. In the case of "bloody," whether "blood" refers to something sacrilegious, or something morbid, or a 17th century aristocrat is totally unclear, so its use as an intensifier actually can't be said to have a specific literal meaning (from the OED again, "It seems likely that the intensifying uses of bloody arose from semantic bleaching..."). Yet it remains a valid intensifier. If anything, a characteristic of swears that can be used in this way is that they don't usually evoke their literal meaning.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:05 PM on July 2, 2013


Rape appears nowhere in the OED definition of "fucking."

As I have already noted, I believe it's a question of usage, rather than of mere definition.

I think bringing rape into this is a pretty idiosyncratic interpretation and not one that is likely to be widely shared.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that nobody in the history of the English language has ever angrily shouted "Fuck you!" and meant "Best wishes for a lovely, consensual sexual experience as soon as is reasonably convenient!"
posted by The World Famous at 3:43 PM on July 2, 2013


The World Famous: "Yes, and yes. Every time. That's why it intensifies the adjective. It intensifies the adjective by explicitly stating that the adjective is as intense as forcible sexual penetration.
...Indeed. Just as you added emphasis to that sentence by comparing it to forced sexual penetration of an anus.
"



I think you're confusing the etymological history of a word with its meaning in current use. Also, you're taking these words a bit too literally. All words we use now have (generally) accepted meanings, though yes, there's a continuum there. All words are abstractions, those abstractions are distanced from their origins by time and by their continued use changing the meaning, and today the context of use changes the meaning or intent. Why does "fuck" have more emotional impact? Because we generally accept that it does in most current uses (and it does have a lot of uses). As I mentioned before, when I curse, to me the intent is mostly emotional, but also the words are highly functional, sometimes they work well as shorthand. Language works in the first place because we all mostly agree on this shit.
So there, I used the word "shit". I used it because it's shorthand, it encapsulates the fact that we all mostly agree that certain words mean certain things in certain contexts, but I can just say "shit" and you probably know what I mean, plus it has a slight lightness to it because profanity denotes casualness. It's like a way of saying "I'm not taking this all too seriously". All that is distilled (hopefully) down to one word, and I think that has functionality.

I'm not saying that only curse words do that, mind you. Shit-tons of words do that, it's just that each curse word has it's meaning and use and some are really bad but most are fairly benign unless you intend to use them as a weapon. You can be every bit as hateful, hurtful, and disgusting without uttering a curse word, and you can be loving and sweet and profane if you want to.

But it could be that every time you hear "fuck", or even in the right way "Jesus Christ"— it is an affront to you, because of how you experience the meaning of those words; I can't deny your personal dictionary because it's your language, too. It's just that while many words can be powerful, these words don't have any superpowers. They just have their own.
posted by Red Loop at 3:47 PM on July 2, 2013


I may be wrong, but I suspect that nobody in the history of the English language has ever angrily shouted "Fuck you!" and meant "Best wishes for a lovely, consensual sexual experience as soon as is reasonably convenient!"

Sure, but I also don't think they all meant "you should be raped!"
posted by en forme de poire at 3:58 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I may be wrong, but I suspect that nobody in the history of the English language has ever angrily shouted "Fuck you!" and meant "Best wishes for a lovely, consensual sexual experience as soon as is reasonably convenient!"

With fuck you, maybe. But you said "you're fucking right!" was a "hyperbolic illustration[s] comparing how right you are to the most extreme situations imaginable (i.e. rape and damnation)."

I really don't see the rape angle just using the word "fucking" itself. It also implies fuck means penetration, which it doesn't always.
posted by billiebee at 4:00 PM on July 2, 2013


Fuck it, I'm off to bed.
posted by billiebee at 4:02 PM on July 2, 2013


Sure, but I also don't think they all meant "you should be raped!"

I guess that's where we disagree.
posted by The World Famous at 4:04 PM on July 2, 2013


This derail is weird, even for Metafilter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't remember when the last time is that someone said "fuck you" to me (the late 90s, maybe?). But next time it happens, I'll try to remember to ask them, what, precisely, they mean by "fuck," assuming that the "you" in the phrase is referring to me specifically. I'll be pleasantly surprised if they reply that they are cursing me to the terrible fate of having a consensual sexual experience at my leisure or if they attach no particular sexual meaning to the word "fuck" in that context. Whatever the response, I will return to this thread and report my findings.
posted by The World Famous at 5:55 PM on July 2, 2013


Again, you're being very literal, TWF. That's not always the way to deal with language.
posted by Red Loop at 6:31 PM on July 2, 2013


No, I'm assuming "fuck you" is a metaphorical malediction, and not (in any usual usage) a literal threat or proposition. Similarly, someone in the usual course saying "go to hell" does not actually believe their words will literally send the recipient to literal hell, but merely that they are using that phrase as a metaphor to express displeasure, notwithstanding the fact that they ordinarily do understand what the literal meaning of "go to hell" is, even though they are using it as a metaphor.

I contend that, when used as a metaphor as part of a malediction, the word describing the sex act is intended to convey a version of the sex act to which the recipient would not consent - as a metaphor for the speaker's level of displeasure. Metaphorically wishing a positive, consensual sexual experience on someone with whom the speaker is extremely displeased would make no sense.

I'm willing to consider evidence that the first word in "fuck you" is not a reference to the sex act in any sense a all, if any such evidence exists. But to the extent that it is a reference to the sex act, I find it untenable and absurd to take the position that the sex act metaphorically referenced is a consensual one. I mean come on.
posted by The World Famous at 6:53 PM on July 2, 2013


Gorram all this frakkin' smeg.

Yes, I'm a fan of science fiction swearing. Nobody can object to it! Frak this frelling schtako!

Also, there's the word "jackhole." Which totally sounds like a swear word, but technically isn't.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:03 PM on July 2, 2013


If "fuck you" means "I hope you are raped," then what does "go fuck yourself" mean? What does "I could(n't) give a fuck" mean? "Go rape yourself" and "I am so indifferent that I couldn't be bothered to offer rape" both seem like poor translations here.

I suspect the word may have some nuances beyond those we have yet plumbed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:36 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


An FYI to those of you enamored with"fuckpig" - it has a rather...specific connotation in particular circles. (I'll leave the rest to Google.)
posted by Neely O'Hara at 7:41 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea: Yes, "go fuck yourself" is a metaphorical malediction commanding the hearer to commit a sexual act on themselves to which they do not consent. As with "fuck you," it would be absurd to suggest that the malediction intends to reference a sexual act that the hearer would find pleasant or welcome. In the case of "couldn't give a fuck," my understanding is that the sex act referenced is not non-consensual, since the meaning of the idiom is to express indifference equal to a total lack of desire to engage in the sex act. I suppose it could reference non-consensual, as well, on the part of the recipient of the sex act to which the speaker purports to be indifferent.

It's really pretty simple. By a show of hands, who here says "fuck you" thinking the person they're telling off will consider it an invitation to a pleasurable, welcome sexual experience? Anyone? Anyone here say "fuck you" without any awareness that the first word of the phrase references sex?
posted by The World Famous at 8:14 PM on July 2, 2013


The wonderful thing about "fuck" and "cunt" is that both words are short and sharp and explosive and feel hugely physically relieving to shout. If I mash my thumb with a hammer, I'm not sure screaming "douchecanoe!" is going to work anywhere near as well.

So to test the idea that both these words might have got where they are today via some kind of physical evolutionary advantage, I'm going to train up on roaring
 ▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄   ▄▄▄      ▄▄▄   ▄▄▄▄     ▄▄▄  ▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄   ▄▄▄ 
 ███▀▀▀▀▀▀▀   ███      ███   ████▄    ███  ▀▀▀▀▀███▀▀▀▀▀   ███ 
 ███          ███      ███   ███▀█▄   ███       ███        ███ 
 ███▄▄▄▄▄▄▄   ███      ███   ███ ▀█▄  ███       ███        ███ 
 ███▀▀▀▀▀▀▀   ███      ███   ███  ▀█▄ ███       ███        ███ 
 ███          ███      ███   ███   ▀█▄███       ███        ▀▀▀ 
 ███           ███▄▄▄▄███    ███    ▀████       ███        ███ 
 ▀▀▀             ▀▀▀▀▀▀      ▀▀▀     ▀▀▀▀       ▀▀▀        ▀▀▀ 
which strikes me as quite satisfactorily sweary-sounding.

If this thread is still open when I next suffer some kind of surprising injury, I'll let you know how it went.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


....How in the funt did you make your link look like that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 AM on July 3, 2013


How many dong per funt is HO trading at?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:59 AM on July 3, 2013


How in the funt did you make your link look like that?

With a lot of funting about.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 AM on July 3, 2013


Funt?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:20 AM on July 3, 2013


Works for me. Anyone who makes pointing and laughing at embarrassed people their life's work would have to be a bit of a funt.
posted by flabdablet at 7:43 AM on July 3, 2013


*Actually, I was told 'moron' was racist, not ableist, but this was just a couple of people on Tumblr and absolutely nobody else has ever got on my case about it or showed any sign of it traumatising them, so I still use that word.

Interesting! I'd encountered this on tumblr too, and it's a really interesting folk etymology: the idea is that "moron" was originally pronounced "maroon" and was an insult because it referred to the Maroons, people who had escaped from slavery living throughout the Caribbean, Florida, etc. As far as I can tell, this idea originated with the Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs Bunny characterizes someone as "what a marooon" for "what a moron". I believe the humor is intended to lie in the nonstandard, "incorrect" pronunciation, but several people on tumblr asserted that it was because referring to someone as a Maroon was intended as a racist insult.

Even if "moron" had not been coined in 1910 as sort of a creepy eugenics word, this etymology seemed pretty unlikely to me if only because I was in my late teens and a chronic reader of radical history before I even heard of the Maroons - it seemed unlikely that a mid-century US white audience would have readily understood "maroon" as a racial insult but then the whole idea of the Maroons would have vanished so completely from popular consciousness by the late eighties/early nineties.

It does say something about tumblr, though - that a lot of commonplace tumblr ways of thinking are not well worked-out. (Obviously, "moron" is offensive, and even if it were not offensive in its origins, if it were widely understood by any group to be racist we should not use it, just as it's not a good idea to say "chink in the armor" - it's just that the whole tumblr thing struck me as trying to attach a racist origin to a word without researching and without having any concern for anyone's actual, living usage...an assumption that if two things sound vaguely similar, they must be related. And also a weird inability to interpret Bugs Bunny.)
posted by Frowner at 9:20 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: Yes, "go fuck yourself" is a metaphorical malediction commanding the hearer to commit a sexual act on themselves to which they do not consent.

I've always been content to think "go fuck yourself" gets its vim because of its anatomical impossibility. That's how it's generally euphamised in family newspapers. If it was the idea if it being a non-consensual act where the vulgarity lay, I'd suggest the euphemism would be something more like "suggested he ravish/ravage himself" rather than "perform an anatomically impossible act".

In the case of "couldn't give a fuck," my understanding is that the sex act referenced is not non-consensual, since the meaning of the idiom is to express indifference equal to a total lack of desire to engage in the sex act.

I don't feel like that make sense. "I saw two people fucking in the bushes" is a perfectly cromulant English sentence, because while "fucking" is the most vulgar term in English for having sex, it's not synonymous with rape. "I saw two people raping in the bushes" is not a grammatical sentence, because rape is something one person does to another.

Besides which, I'm not at sure that the use of "fuck" in expressions like "I don't give a fuck," or, more to the point, "what the fuck" always connotes/evokes/refers to sex. The thing with fuck is that it's the most vulgar way to litrally talk about the most intimate act. But because of that literal meaning, it also has a secondary sense of simply "the worst word you can say". We borrow some of fuck's power and danger when we use it in these metaphorical ways, and that's completely separate from its literal meaning. I mean, if I say "I'm in a bit of a pickle" do I intend my listener to think my situation is somehow like soaking in vinegar brine? Pickle may have started out as such a metaphor, but now it simply means "a problem or dilemma."
posted by Diablevert at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


By a show of hands, who here says "fuck you" thinking the person they're telling off will consider it an invitation to a pleasurable, welcome sexual experience? Anyone? Anyone here say "fuck you" without any awareness that the first word of the phrase references sex?

"Fuck" as "vigorous intercourse" I'd buy. But it's also just an intensifier. When I say "Go fuck yourself" I'm not actually picturing the person on the receiving end in any sexual scenario at all. It's an act of pure disapproval.

So while intention is not the end of the argument over meanings (witness racial epithets) I do think the fact that I don't actually have sex acts in mind, specifically, when I say "What the fuck?" is relevant. The fact that a person might ask to be fucked, as in "Fuck me hard, lover!" also suggests that consent is not denied, even if it's not guaranteed in any specific fucking.

The reason "fuck" bothers me as a epithet is just because it's sex-negative, not because it denotes or connotes an absence of consent.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:52 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously, "moron" is offensive, and even if it were not offensive in its origins, if it were widely understood by any group to be racist we should not use it, just as it's not a good idea to say "chink in the armor" - it's just that the whole tumblr thing struck me as trying to attach a racist origin to a word without researching and without having any concern for anyone's actual, living usage...an assumption that if two things sound vaguely similar, they must be related. And also a weird inability to interpret Bugs Bunny.

Interesting, and weird.

The Tumblrverse's sometimes-propensity to create new living spaces for racism reminds me of this Terry Eagleton quote:
The cult of the text would thus fulfil the ambivalent function of all utopia: to provide us with a frail image of a freedom we might otherwise fail to commemorate, but in doing so to confiscate some of the energies which we might have invested in its actual realization. And one can imagine this exorbitation of discourse extending further than just the text, to encompass speech habits in general. If it is no longer possible to realize one’s political desires in action, then one might direct them instead into the sign, cleansing it, for example, of its political impurities, and channelling into some linguistic campaign all the pent-up energies which can no longer help to end an imperialist war or bring down the White House. Language, of course, is as real as anything else, as those who are the objects of racial or sexist slurs have reason to know, and courteous or comradely speech is a necessary part of social life. But language, like anything else, can also come to figure as a fetish - both in the Marxist sense of being reified, invested with too numinous a power, and in the Freudian sense of standing in for something now elusively absent. To deny that there is any significant distinction between discourse and reality, between practising genocide and talking about it, is among other things a rationalization of this condition. Whether one projects language into material reality, or material reality into language, the result is to confirm that there is nothing as important as speaking. And if this itself does not speak eloquently of the deadlocked political situation of a highly specific corner of the globe, then it is hard to know what does. Those most sensitive to questions of correct ethnic terminology would then be indulging in a thoroughly ethnocentric practice.
People who claim "moron" is racist are not confusing genocide with talk about genocide, but they are confusing actually existing offensive word usage with playlets of their own invention, in which they pretend to slay racism by batting at individual words from behind a keyboard. This kind of folk etymology has a poisonous effect. It is factually unfounded, moralizing busywork. It creates a world in which the much-benighted Tumblrite is besieged on all sides by new and multiplying forms of ever-more-obscure forms of racism. It creates a world in which the real work of improving others' lives apparently cannot proceed until every last detail of this world has been scrubbed of all impurity. This worldview obscures the possibility of more productive, more coordinated conversation and action. It is the social justice equivalent of procrastinating by cleaning out the refrigerator. It is also the kind of micromanaging silliness which P. J. O'Rourke would make up to mock the Left.

As I said upthread, there can never be a 100% accurate and precise way to determine whether a word should be stricken from speech or not. At best, there are reasonable rubrics you can apply, such as whether or not a quorum of a targeted class would be offended. Some cases will be quite obvious. Other may be less obvious, especially to people not from a targeted class. Others still would be a waste of effort to fight, and still others will be false positives. Sometimes, it is very much worth it to make sure that people don't use certain words, but in other situations, it would only hurt your cause and your credibility. Not all of these distinctions will be clear-cut, because life is complicated. Sometimes these distinctions may even wind up being paradoxical or in some other way intractable.

Almost everyone already "gets" this, but there will always some people who will always try to force gray, messy issues into pure categories and/or rigid, bright line rules. These people are silly and wrong. They often love to reinforce one another's worldview, just as they often love to prove to one another that each is the most pure of all.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:22 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't feel like that make sense. "I saw two people fucking in the bushes" is a perfectly cromulant English sentence, because while "fucking" is the most vulgar term in English for having sex, it's not synonymous with rape.

I thought I had explained myself on this issue already, but let me try to be even more clear: I do not contend that "fuck" is synonymous with rape.
posted by The World Famous at 12:23 PM on July 3, 2013


I do not contend that "fuck" is synonymous with rape.

I'm sorry, but I'm a little slow. I was responding to this:

I find it untenable and absurd to take the position that the sex act metaphorically referenced is a consensual one. I mean come on.

Could you help me see how I've misread you?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:27 PM on July 3, 2013


Could you help me see how I've misread you?

You appear to have failed to read the preceding sentences, which led you to miss that I was referring to one specific usage of the term "fuck," rather than to the central definition of the term in isolation. Does that help?
posted by The World Famous at 12:45 PM on July 3, 2013


Well, I see that you're referring to it in that case. What I don't understand is whether you think that that is the paradigm case that tells us something about what the word means in general, or whether there are many different meanings that correspond to usages in different situations. Is there an essence here, or are we merely exploring a family resemblance term?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:49 PM on July 3, 2013


It's really pretty simple. By a show of hands, who here says "fuck you" thinking the person they're telling off will consider it an invitation to a pleasurable, welcome sexual experience? Anyone? Anyone here say "fuck you" without any awareness that the first word of the phrase references sex?

People are aware that "fuck" has a sexual meaning, but they do not say "fuck you" to mean even a metaphorical sexual experience, consensual or otherwise. This is why people are accusing you of being overly literal. In its own way, it's somewhat similar to how "how are you?" is not actually a request for an explanation as to how one is, even though that is what the sentence seems like it literally ought to mean, divorced from any pragmatic considerations.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:54 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]




What I don't understand is whether you think that that is the paradigm case that tells us something about what the word means in general

I don't think it's the paradigm case. I do think usage tells us something about what the word means, just as it does with any other word. I agree with you above that the word is generally sex-negative, even when it is not being used in a way that implies force or lack of consent.

or whether there are many different meanings that correspond to usages in different situations.


Yes, that, too. I don't think it's an either/or situation.

People are aware that "fuck" has a sexual meaning, but they do not say "fuck you" to mean even a metaphorical sexual experience

Hm. I don't buy that.

In its own way, it's somewhat similar to how "how are you?" is not actually a request for an explanation as to how one is, even though that is what the sentence seems like it literally ought to mean, divorced from any pragmatic considerations.

Indeed, "how are you" is a greeting where the question is not literal, just as "fuck you" is a sexual epithet that is not literally a command or request for the listener to literally have the sexual experience referenced.

This is why people are accusing you of being overly literal.

People who accuse someone of being overly literal because that person explicitly states that they are being metaphorical are fucking idiots - but not literally, unless they actually do happen to be engaged in the sex at the moment.
posted by The World Famous at 1:14 PM on July 3, 2013


Just to be clear, I suspect that one problem is reducing all language to either literal or metaphorical propositions. Many linguistic acts have no meaning, only uses.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:20 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "fuck you" is idiomatic. A lot of idioms do not have a meaning (or use, as per anotherpanacea) that follows logically from their constituent words.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:24 PM on July 3, 2013


People are aware that "fuck" has a sexual meaning, but they do not say "fuck you" to mean even a metaphorical sexual experience

Hm. I don't buy that.


Despite the fact that several people are telling you as much about what it means and doesn't mean when they say and/or hear the phrase. Are you assuming that we're all lying? Is your theory independent of all evidence to the contrary? Is only your idiolect valid?

Indeed, "how are you" is a greeting where the question is not literal, just as "fuck you" is a sexual epithet that is not literally a command or request for the listener to literally have the sexual experience referenced.

No, it is not about literality or the use of metaphor. This is about pragmatics, which is the part of linguistics which covers how language is actually used in practice. It's actually quite interesting. It's very helpful in both ESL and special needs education.

As for metaphor, "how are you?" as a greeting is not a metaphor. Nothing is being figuratively compared to anything. "The sky was a thick, wet blanket" is a metaphor. Neither is "fuck you" a metaphor. Nothing is being compared to anything. Speaking very generally, "fuck you" expresses anger towards another person through both a general sense of something bad being directed at that person, but also through the violation of a linguistic taboo.

People who accuse someone of being overly literal because that person explicitly states that they are being metaphorical are fucking idiots - but not literally, unless they actually do happen to be engaged in the sex at the moment.

This is sad.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:27 PM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Despite the fact that several people are telling you as much about what it means and doesn't mean when they say and/or hear the phrase.

Yes, despite that.

Are you assuming that we're all lying?

No.

Is your theory independent of all evidence to the contrary?

No.

Is only your idiolect valid?

No.

This is sad.

I'm tempted to give a certain response here as a joke, but I suspect its jokey content would be overlooked and it would be taken literally.
posted by The World Famous at 1:36 PM on July 3, 2013


People who accuse someone of being overly literal because that person explicitly states that they are being metaphorical are fucking idiots

I'm guessing you're aiming for some sort of irony here, The World Famous, but it's kind of reading like you're just getting shitty with other folks here and it'd be a good idea to cool it. If you're frustrated with the conversation, it's fine to just walk away.
posted by cortex at 1:37 PM on July 3, 2013


TWF, googling uncovers an interesting-looking little PDF on the pragmatics of expressives, such as "fuck". The pragmatics of expressive content, by Christopher Potts. On the second page, Potts lists a number of factors which can help us identify expressives. Note the hard distinction between expressive and descriptive content. When you say "fuck!" as you stub your toe, the word "fuck!" has no descriptive content, either literally or figuratively. When I say "fuck you!" to someone, I am indicating that I dislike that person and I generally want harm to come to them - there is no descriptive meaning beyond that, literally or figuratively.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:40 PM on July 3, 2013


Yeah, it's clear to me that a few people here are more interested in finding more and more sophisticated ways to tell me why they've decided I'm wrong than they are in caring what I'm actually saying. It's not that I don't appreciate the link or the point you're making, Stitcherbeast. In fact, I agree with you and the other folks here, for the most part.
posted by The World Famous at 1:48 PM on July 3, 2013


Talking about what words mean is the kind of thing that brings its own kind of frustration, because one's mastery of the language is being challenged. But that goes both ways: when someone offers a linguistic explanation that doesn't jive with your understanding, it looks like a challenge, too. So the challenge is never simply univocal: a disagreement always feels like a mutual challenge over linguistic competence. The goal should always be comity.

So, here's another attempt to articulate what TWF might mean. Tell me where I've gone wrong.

"x fucks y" denotes that x has vigorous sexual intercourse with y.

An unfriendly command ("Sit Down," "Shut Up," "Go Fuck Yourself.") is always implicitly non-consensual.

"Fuck you" is an unfriendly command to engage in vigorous sexual intercourse.

Non-consensual vigorous sexual intercourse is rape.

How am I doing?

One problem, of course, is that the unfriendly command "Fuck you" doesn't actually follow the "x fucks y" form, nor does it have the obvious reflexivity of "Fuck Yourself." So while it might just be a shortened form of "Go Fuck Yourself," we might also be wishing that our interlocutor is fucked by an anonymous other, or commanding another to fuck him against his will, etc. Or maybe it's ungrammatical just because it doesn't have descriptive content any longer, and so the grammar is trumped by practical concerns, like the way it phonemes feel harsh and fricative.

One concern with the attempt to use fuck *merely* expressively is that it seems to indicate that there's no leftover meanings to worry about. It's no accident that the only other "Φ You" formulation in circulation is the related "Screw You." We don't think that words like "cunt" lose their connotation when used as insults, and we don't think it for the very worst racial epithets: like it or not, those words keep their descriptive content. So why would we say that "fuck" or "hell" are different? That may be too convenient, or it may be a matter of resolving a larger social question ("Is there anyone who will hear this term and be unable to look past its history or other content?")
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:09 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very nicely stated. Thanks!
posted by The World Famous at 3:24 PM on July 3, 2013


It's no accident that the only other "Φ You" formulation in circulation is the related "Screw You."

People still say "damn you" or "goddamn you" though, no? I mean, I think I see where you're coming from here, but the interchangeability of "damn you" and "fuck you" seems to argue against a particularly sexual meaning.

(Ultimately, I hope we can all agree that "go fuck yourself" is a pretty great expression. Especially in the form of "why don't you go outside and play hide and go fuck yourself?")
posted by en forme de poire at 3:58 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I wouldn't say "Damn you" is in widespread circulation, but if we include it, then it actually militates in favor of a contentful "Fuck you." Folks who say "Damn you" really are invoking eternal punition or the deprivation of salvation, viz.: "Damn you straight to hell!" and "Damn you for an X!" i.e. "Damn you for a Heretic!" or "Damn you for an impudent son of an Irish whore!"

Man, these beans are tasty. :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:14 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where I live people often say "Fuck up" for "shut up", even when in perfectly good humour. I bet you could ask every single one if there was any kind of sexual connotation attached (especially rape) and they would wonder what the hell you were talking about. Also I say "fuck me!" as an exclamation and I can assure you that I am not wishing rape upon myself. Do you picture actual excrement every time you say the word shit?

People might still be shocked enough on hearing "cunt" to register what it actually means, before translating it into an insult, but fuck is too common now for people to make the association, imo. Racist epithets are different as they are deliberately invoking the connotation.
posted by billiebee at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2013


Hmm - ap, I think that's debatable, but my point was more that if you can take any instance of "fuck you" and replace it with "damn you" and the point is unchanged, doesn't that argue that the literal meanings of "fuck" and "damn" aren't doing any of the lifting?
posted by en forme de poire at 4:19 PM on July 3, 2013


I don't know that that replacement can be one-to-one. If you take every instance of "asshole" and replace it with "cunt," you'll definitely change the meaning, precisely because of the content.

And if someone says "Damn you" it sounds so quaint (and metaphysically question-begging) that I think most people really would hear a different kind of insult than "Fuck you." But that's just my sense of those words, as an atheist. What's worse: you can explain those differences in terms of expressive pragmatics or in terms of content, so it's not really dispositive.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:25 PM on July 3, 2013


I bet you could ask every single one if there was any kind of sexual connotation attached (especially rape) and they would wonder what the hell you were talking about.

Are you saying you don't think any of them understand the word "fuck" to be, by definition, a vulgar term for sexual intercourse, or that you don't think any of them specifically intend to propose a literal act of sexual intercourse when they use the term in that specific phrase, although they do understand that "fuck" is a synonym for a sex act? Or are you saying something else. If there exists a native English-speaking subculture of adults that is wholly unaware of the sexual meaning of the word "fuck," that would be both surprising and fascinating to me.

Maybe next time you're with one of those people, you could ask them to explain to you what they think the word "motherfucker" means and whether the term has any sexual connotation. I don't know where you live, but everywhere I've lived it has seemed that people understand the word "fuck" and its various derivations to be something other than a vaguely negative gibberish word and understand that it specifically refers to sexual intercourse in a vulgar way.

Also I say "fuck me!" as an exclamation and I can assure you that I am not wishing rape upon myself.

I don't think anyone here is saying that those who say "fuck you" or "fuck me" are literally wishing any sex act upon the target of the phrase.

but my point was more that if you can take any instance of "fuck you" and replace it with "damn you" and the point is unchanged, doesn't that argue that the literal meanings of "fuck" and "damn" aren't doing any of the lifting?

On the contrary, all of the lifting in those phrases is done by the culturally-understood extreme negative connotation of the words "damn" and "fuck." And part of the reason why "damn you" is not as strong as "fuck you" is because, as illustrated in anotherpanacea's comment, a culture moving away from widespread belief in damnation as a forceful reference diminishes the negative meaning of the word, even as the word continues to be attached to that meaning. There's a reason why people say "bless you" when someone sneezes and "damn you" when they're angry with them, and it's not arbitrary.

One sort of counterexample I can think of is "bless your heart," where an ostensibly positive wish is directed at someone with (sometimes) a derisive intent and (sometimes) a meaning very close to "fuck you." But I understand "bless your heart" in that context to be specifically relying on irony, so I actually think it only reinforces the idea that the "fuck" in "fuck you" is universally understood to be a bad thing - unless it, too, is being used ironically, of course.
posted by The World Famous at 4:46 PM on July 3, 2013


What happened to the ill wishes of yore? Damn your eyes for example. It seems like we no longer wish maladies and afflictions on each other. I've got to say, one of the funniest comic moments in film that I can remember is Swoosie Kurtz saying: "I'll pray for you... pray for you to get nut cancer and die."
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:57 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine: May you stink forever.
posted by kagredon at 5:05 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]




TWF, what did you think of the material on the pragmatics of expressives? Your take on "fuck," "fuck you," etc. is very different from how the people who study these issues for a living deal with it. Why should people take your opinion over theirs?

Besides, language is almost the very epitome of consensus reality. You can't argue that "fuck you" really means something other than what speakers and listeners say it means. When people disagree with your interpretation of "fuck you", the disagreement itself literally constitutes disproof. Saying that they're mistaken is equivalent to arguing that a baseball diamond "really" has seven bases.

For your hypothesis to be correct, you need to produce evidence that a significant number of people understand the phrase "fuck you!" to actually mean, even if only figuratively, some sort of command or desire for a sex act to occur to a person. It is not enough that people know that the word "fuck" generally relates to sex, especially since "Bob fucks Sally" is a completely different phrase, and a completely different sort of phrase, than "fuck you." You cannot argue that people ought to think that that's what "fuck you" means, based on what you feel is a perfectly logical argument, no more than you can argue that the sun ought to be a different star than it is.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:22 AM on July 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sticherbeast: I think part of the issue in pragmatics is the contrast between usages and intentions, on the one hand, and significance.

If someone told you that the worst of the racist epithets was just being used expressively, that they "didn't mean it that way," would you automatically believe them? What if they really did have some black friends?

We do this sort of thing all the time: point out that what one intends is at odds with what one is actually doing when one speaks. So I don't think that pragmatics is reducible simply to what is intended.

It's different to say that we're now also interested in what is heard, what is understood by a listener. When we say that, we have to take a couple of things into account: which listeners? Under what circumstances? And pragmatics can do all that very well, but you run into the problem that audiences change. Racist jokes featuring the worst of racial epithets may go unnoticed in some audiences. In a wider audience they will raise hackles. And TWF is an audience. Perhaps an audience of one, but he is a listener, fluent in English, whose hackles are raised by the word "fuck."

And especially given the goal of the original article, the claims that "fuck" is politically incorrect for being sex-negative require that the unfriendly command somehow use sex in a non-consensual or brutalizing fashion. You can't avoid that slippage, even if most of the people using the term most of the time aren't aware of it. Most of the people using sexist and misogynistic language most of the time aren't thinking about the ways that language may contribute to rape culture or patriarchal oppression. Most of the people using racist language aren't aware of what they're doing, either. Awareness isn't a prerequisite for language to do its work.

Now, I should say that I don't plan to stop using "fuck." I don't think that language does all the lifting, all the time: I'm pretty sex positive even though I use "fuck" as a malediction. But I'm thinking the issue through, here, and I don't think that my self-reporting or your self-reporting is the end of the story.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:36 AM on July 4, 2013


anotherpanacea, the problem you're stating with regard to racial epithets has been approached many times. Indeed, even just in this discussion, even just as the tip of the iceberg, I am always talking about how both a speaker and a listener assign the meaning to a word. You cannot say "n*gger" and say that it doesn't mean what listeners will understand it to mean. That doesn't mean that some racial epithets might not still be used as expressives by some people, but that's getting into a complex set of issues. It does not drain the understood meaning from "n*gger" or similar words.

This is different from "fuck you!", where it is highly relevant that no significant population of speakers or listeners would construe "fuck you!" to carry the descriptive content TWF has assigned to it.

...

As for "fuck" compared to other words, note that expressives are not the same as taboo words. TWF, please go to the PDF I linked, and look at the factors used to distinguish expressives from other sorts of words. Also look at the ways in which the author applies those factors in an attempt to refine a further method of analysis. Do you see how "c*nt" does not really work purely as an expressive, whereas "damn" and "bloody" can?

While expressives are morphosyntactically diverse, they share many common qualities. They are independent, which means that they have meaning outside of regular descriptive content. "Fuck you!" means something outside of any other sentence which only uses descriptive content. "Fuck you!" is fundamentally different than saying, "I am so mad at you that I want something bad and sex-related to happen to you!", and not just because the latter is awkward and nonstandard. The fact that "fuck you!" has been repeated so often in life actually strengthens its impact and meaning - as a sentence, it conveys "I am angry at you!" in a more emphatic and immediate sense than simply saying "I am angry at you!" by itself could ever mean.

Expressives are also morphosyntactically optional, meaning that they can always be omitted from a sentence without losing descriptive content - "that's the best fuckin' coffee I've ever had!" can be changed to "that's the best coffee I've ever had!" with no loss of descriptive content.

Contrast this with "n*gger" or "bloody" or other similar words. They don't all work the same way, do they?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:46 AM on July 4, 2013


I'm sorry, Sticherbeast, but you're missing the point about the slippage that can and does occur. You're ignoring the argument, not responding to it. Even as we use it in all sorts of out-of-the-way sentential places as an intensifier, it doesn't *stop* being about sex.

Some people intensify their "Fuck you" by identifying how/where they plan to do it:

"Fuck you in the eye"
"Fuck you bloody"
"Fuck you in the earhole"

Then too there are all the moments when someone combines "Fuck you" with a further degrading phrase that indicates that they actually mean that the person they're angry at is meant to be sexually degraded in some way, i.e. "Fuck you faggot," etc.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:54 AM on July 4, 2013


Awareness isn't a prerequisite for language to do its work.

Awareness of speakers and listeners is absolutely required, is the thing. If people do not receive that meaning from "fuck you", then that meaning literally is not there.

It's not enough to argue theoretically that that slippage so described ought to be there. That's just a hypothesis. We need empirical evidence that that is how the meaning is received, and not just by a few people.

Then too there are all the moments when someone combines "Fuck you" with a further degrading phrase that indicates that they actually mean that the person they're angry at is meant to be sexually degraded in some way, i.e. "Fuck you faggot," etc.

Yes, the phrase "fuck you" can mean something different, if we say something different from just the phrase "fuck you." The phrase "here you go" is different from the phrase "here you go, faggot."

There are also more complicated cases in between, where there is play between the expressive and descriptive content of the word "fuck", such as "fuck you in the eye." We would still have to look at the empirical evidence of the meaning actually sent and received by these phrases, in order to understand what's going on. It is not enough to hypothesize that, since "fuck you in the eye" apparently references a sex act in the eye, that speakers or listeners understand that meaning in a manner similar to a purely descriptive sentence which similarly conveys the same wish.

What precisely do you mean when you say that "fuck" is "about" "sex"? In which senses of the word "about", to what extents? In which dimensions, and to what extents, does the phrase "fuck you" share or not share this quality? Where is your evidence for this? I'm not asking you because I think you're an unreliable or untrustworthy person, but because what people send and receive is literally what constitutes the evidence either way.

There's nothing wrong with speculating as to what might be the effect of using certain phrases, but this is extremely complicated territory, and bringing the case beyond speculation requires much more rigor than has been provided within this thread.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:10 AM on July 4, 2013


Stitcherbeast, I already noted above that I did read the article and that I agree with it and you. I promise I was telling the truth. It's the 4th of July and I'm going to spend a nice day with my family instead of continuing this today. Maybe I'll pick it up again tomorrow. I don't know.
posted by The World Famous at 9:16 AM on July 4, 2013


And part of the reason why "damn you" is not as strong as "fuck you" is because, as illustrated in anotherpanacea's comment, a culture moving away from widespread belief in damnation as a forceful reference diminishes the negative meaning of the word, even as the word continues to be attached to that meaning. There's a reason why people say "bless you" when someone sneezes and "damn you" when they're angry with them, and it's not arbitrary.

Sure, but this doesn't apply just to the literal meaning of "damn" - without the cultural expectation that you and your object are both religious in more or less the same tradition, religious words, regardless of what exactly they mean, lose their power as a taboo. Meanwhile, everybody still fucks and shits and pisses, and no prohibitions have eased on doing any of those things in public (at least in polite society).

And while I agree it's not arbitrary that "bless" is positive and "damn" is negative, if someone exclaims "Jesus Christ" (a pretty positive guy in the Christian tradition) the meaning is a lot closer to "fuck" than "hurray." In French-Canadian swearing this extends to a lot of positive or neutral things like "baptism," "tabernacle," "chalice," "sacrament," etc. - as far as I understand it, the transgressive power is more that you're not supposed to say any of those things than it is about whether the actual thing in question is positive or negative. So I'm not sure it's that simple.

In conclusion, hope everyone who celebrates it has a happy goddamn 4th of July! Let's grill the shit out of something and have some shitty beers.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:51 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am all for having a good time on the fourth, but I enjoy chatting about stuff on Metafilter. So, allow me a rejoinder.

Awareness of speakers and listeners is absolutely required, is the thing.

I really don't think it is, but this is helpful for focusing the discussion. Take the worst of racial epithets. The famous Greenberg/Pyszczynski study showed that the word actually propagates racism, that it's not just a symptom but a carrier: "The effect of an overheard ethnic slur on evaluations of the target: How to spread a social disease." (See also: "Further Evidence of the Deleterious Effects of Overheard Derogatory Ethnic Labels: Derogation Beyond the Target")

There's plenty of evidence to back that finding up in other contexts, for example for women and words like "bitch" and cunt" or showing sadomasochistic pornography.

So language doesn't just do what we intend or we think we understand. It does other things, implicit things, like increasing aggression.

There's a lot of work being done on this, and yes, it's a hard question that should be settled empirically, but you've got to at least acknowledge the implicit effects of language before we proceed, I think.

PS- I liked this article: "Fuck is all about sex and nothing about sex all at the same time."
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:52 AM on July 4, 2013


All of your examples contain listeners, anotherpanacea.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:55 AM on July 4, 2013


Sure, but they're not aware of what the language is doing to them. Thus, "implicit."
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:15 PM on July 4, 2013


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