How to do things with four-letter words.
April 6, 2003 3:56 PM   Subscribe

How to do things with four-letter words. Why do we swear? Or, more importantly, why are swear words "bad" and other words are fine? Angus Kidman's thesus on the semantics of swearing in Australia - and most other English speaking places as well - tries to shed some light. Possibly NSFW.
posted by Fat Elvis (21 comments total)
'Cunt' is such a good word.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 4:22 PM on April 6, 2003

Fuckin' A!
posted by jonmc at 4:27 PM on April 6, 2003

Very good - thanks, Fat Elvis. Here's Mark Irwin's A Cultural History of Cunt: it's quite well known but some people may not have heard of it yet.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:32 PM on April 6, 2003

we swear because it's cool to swear. swearing wins you the respect and admiration of friends and colleagues. everybody loves a talented swearer.
posted by mokey at 4:34 PM on April 6, 2003

I'm disappointed that his References do not include any mention of George Carlin, although there are two citations to "Dong, Quang Phuc".
posted by wendell at 4:42 PM on April 6, 2003

Umpteen years ago, I was encouraged to try stand-up comedy, and started doing the 'open mike' nights at one club, owned by the well-regarded former partner of a more famous club. After changing my material every week and doing it totally clean the first five times, I came up with a bit of sex/relationship humor using the straight line (uttered by an ex-girlfriend): "Where did you learn how to fuck?" The well-regarded owner took me aside afterwards to talk to me about my choice of language. "But the guy before me said 'fuck' a dozen times in five minutes!" "Yes, but he said it as an interjection. You used it as a verb".

After umpteen years, I can finally publicly say: What a fuckwit!

BTW, this is the first time I've ever noticed 'fuck' is not in the MeFi Spell Check dictionary...)
posted by wendell at 4:57 PM on April 6, 2003

holy. florking. schnit.
posted by quonsar at 5:17 PM on April 6, 2003

posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:37 PM on April 6, 2003

posted by Jimbob at 6:16 PM on April 6, 2003

Australian swearing is a wonderfully diverse language.

Action: Open fridge, discover a full carton of beer:

Action: Open fridge, discover no beer:
"Fuck!" (Downward inflection)

Action: Slam one's finger in fridge door:
"Fuck!" (Upwards inflection)
posted by Jimbob at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2003

I personally like words that sound bad, but aren't, like muckluck. Or futtbuck. Or bass-ackwards. Or sockcucker. Or clunt.
posted by drstrangelove at 6:29 PM on April 6, 2003

I personally love television edits. The best I've heard so far was "frogging ashpole."
posted by pedantic at 6:55 PM on April 6, 2003

just for drstrangelove
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:57 PM on April 6, 2003

Another profane paper: Better Living through Swearing: Repitition Blindness and Profanity. This is from the same grad student as the Discovery channel crop circle episode from October or so.
posted by whatzit at 8:19 PM on April 6, 2003

cunting fuck
posted by goddam at 8:49 PM on April 6, 2003

"With a name like Smucker's, it HAS to be good."
posted by wendell at 9:39 PM on April 6, 2003

everybody loves a talented swearer.
Ah yes, but there is a fine line between being talented and being just plan foul-mouthed. This is something that movie producers should think about before they leave all the foul language in just for shock value, when a single, well-placed "fuck" would provide a much better effect for anyone other than 12-year-old boys.
posted by dg at 9:42 PM on April 6, 2003

This sounds like a job for Johnny Dangerously:

"You lousy corksuckers. You have violated my farging rights. Dis somanumbatching country was founded so that the liberties of common patriotic citizens like me could not be taken away by a bunch of fargin yourselves. "
posted by kirkaracha at 11:09 PM on April 6, 2003

Thanks Pretty_Generic!
posted by drstrangelove at 9:35 PM on April 7, 2003

The relative status of cursing and swearing in America and Australia has already been discussed (Section 1.1.1), but other examples can also be adduced. For instance, both Australian and American English allow the use of the word shit as a noun for personal abuse, but only American English allows the use of fuck in the same way.

(13a) You stupid shit! (American)

(13b You stupid shit! (Australian)

(13c) You stupid fuck! (American)

(13d) *You stupid fuck! (Australian)

Construction (14c) would not be possible in Australian English; the nearest possible equivalents might be You stupid fucker!, You stupid fuckwit! or You stupid fucking idiot!
It seems to me that this may be due to the american R, which is somewhat more unweildy than the australian or british R, rendering fucker more difficult to say in moments of stress.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:51 AM on April 8, 2003

Tlogmer: You've got it the wrong way round. It's not that Americans don't use "fucker" (we do), it's that Aussies don't use "fuck" (referring to a person). I don't think there is any explanation other than habit. They may eventually pick it up from American movies, the way everybody picked up "OK."
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on April 8, 2003

« Older Shouldn't it be   |   new mayor of baghdad Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments