When Bad Words Do Good Things
May 8, 2003 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Shut Up! Due to a linguistic phenomenon called amelioration, we're losing a lot of those nice, bad words that are so useful for expressing anger. Nice once meant stupid and bad's good today. "Shut up!" increasingly means an affectionate "Get outta here!"; No is becoming Yes and even "Fuck off!", with the right intonation can mean something like "I don't believe it! How very interesting, Carruthers!" Where will it end? And it's not as if any good words are making the opposite journey, except perhaps "You can kiss my ass", which is easily imagined as a term of endearment back in old Babylon. What really bad words and expressions will survive the nicification onslaught? And what unnecessary good words could be put to better use as insults?
posted by MiguelCardoso (54 comments total)
bite me.
posted by quonsar at 3:08 PM on May 8, 2003

Quonsar, I digress. I have used that on several occasions with benefit.
posted by pedantic at 3:13 PM on May 8, 2003

"Get outta here!", because this is sold old...yet I grew where this talk is from, so new to the sick folks of Portugal.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:16 PM on May 8, 2003

It isn't the type of words used, it's the tone. Anything with the right tone and understanding can sound "nice" and vice-versa.
posted by mr. man at 3:16 PM on May 8, 2003

Why don't you go back to your mother's cunt and jerk off the unborn bastard?

I'm pretty sure that will never be nice. It's translated from Romanian; the other version I've heard uses 'foetus' instead of 'bastard,' and which is more insulting is an ongoing source of debate in certain circles.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:18 PM on May 8, 2003

And meanwhile, somewhere, George Carlin is smiling.
posted by eyebeam at 3:22 PM on May 8, 2003

Fucking cuntrags...
posted by Space Coyote at 3:33 PM on May 8, 2003

My submissions for "nicification":



posted by Marquis at 3:38 PM on May 8, 2003

posted by paladin at 3:38 PM on May 8, 2003

I could have sworn this was a double, but I can't find it.
posted by timeistight at 3:39 PM on May 8, 2003

It was a comment. Sorry.
posted by timeistight at 3:44 PM on May 8, 2003

What gets me in hotwater is "off the hook". It used to me "no worries for you", but now it means "you're an idiot." Whatever.
posted by loafingcactus at 3:45 PM on May 8, 2003

Cunt will never be a term of endearment, save for in my household.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:49 PM on May 8, 2003

First time I heard the "Shut. Up!" stuff was Elaine on Seinfeld ("Get. Out!" too). Been using it ever since.

I think I use it a little too much though--for people that don't get the usage, they can be a little offended if you're meeting for the first time and saying it.
posted by gramcracker at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2003

A radish may know no Greek. But I do.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:06 PM on May 8, 2003

Hmm. "nice" meaning "stupid" is a new one on me, since it used to mean "precise" (or at the very least something done with skill) - at least it did around the 14th centuary.

Maybe I'm not going far enough back, but I'm skeptical...
posted by chrimble at 4:40 PM on May 8, 2003

Chrimble: the O.E.D. adds other less than nice definitions and very interesting usages:

1. Foolish, stupid, senseless. Obs. (Common in 14th and 15th c.) a. Of persons.

c1290 S. Eng. Leg. I. 476/493 And bot ich e [seide] hou heo heold mi lif, for-soe ich were nice. c1350 Will. Palerne 491 Now witterly ich am vn-wis & wonderliche nyce. 1387 TREVISA Higden (Rolls) VI. 23 He made e lady so mad and so nyce at sche worschipped hym as e grettest prophete of God Almyty. c1450 LOVELICH Grail xlii. 73 They seiden he was a fool..and that they sien neuere so nise a man. 1500-20 DUNBAR Poems xxxix. 35 Quha that dois deidis of petie..Is haldin a fule, and that full nyce. c1557 ABP. PARKER Ps. xlix. 141 As well the wyse as mad and nyse to others leave theyr port.

b. Of actions, etc.

13.. Gaw. & Gr. Knt. 323 yn askyng is nys, & as ou foly has frayst, fynde e be-houes. 1390 GOWER Conf. III. 180 So is it bot a nyce Sinne Of gold to ben to covoitous. c1460 J. RUSSELL Bk. Nurture 508 Cookes..at provokethe e peple..rou nice excesse of such receytes of e life to make an endynge. 1494 FABYAN Chron. VI. ccxvi. 234 A nyce folysshe couenaunte ought nat to be holdin. 1560 ROLLAND Crt. Venus I. 739 [Quha did] reheirs ane certane nyse Sermonis, [With argu]mentis, and diuers questionis.

2. Wanton, loose-mannered; lascivious. Obs. a. Of persons.

c1325 Poem temp. Edw. II (Percy) 10 These nyse prestes That playeth her nyse game By nyt. ?a1366 CHAUCER Rom. Rose 1285 Nyce she was, but she mente Noone harme ne slight in hir entente, But oonely lust & jolyte. c1412 HOCCLEVE De Reg. Princ. 1473 ou woldest han as wantonly e gyed As do e nycest of hem. c1430 Hymns Virgin (1867) 53 Dampned soulis..at wolen not do weel, but euere be nyce. 1529 RASTELL Pastyme, Hist. Brit. (1811) 153 He..put out of his court all nyce and wanton people. 1588 SHAKES. L.L.L. III. 24 These are complements, these are humours, these betraie nice wenches that would be betraied without these.

absol. 13.. E.E. Allit. P. B. 1359 Hit is not innoghe to e nice al noty ink vse Bot if all e worlde wyt his wykked dedes. 1414 26 Pol. Poems 60 God eue ow grace..To cherische e goode, and chastyse e nys.

b. Of conduct, etc.

c1330 R. BRUNNE Chron. (1810) 236 We..telle ow oer tales..of er nyce ribaudie. 1387 TREVISA Higden (Rolls) IV. 67 o it was i-doo wi foule songes and gestes and iapes and nyse menstralcie. 1423 JAS. I Kingis Q. cxxix, Gif thy lufe [be] sett alluterly Of nyce lust, thy trauail is in veyne. a1450 MYRC 61 From nyse iapes and rybawdye Thow moste turne away yn ye. 1529 MORE Suppl. Soulys Wks. 306/2 These nice and wanton wordes doo not verye wel wyth vs. 1587 GOLDING De Mornay Ep. Ded., Ouercome with nyce pleasures and fond vanities. 1606 SHAKES. Ant. & Cl. III. xiii. 180 When mine houres Were nice and lucky, men did ransome liues Of me for iests.

posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:53 PM on May 8, 2003

"Off the hook" also now means out of control, crazy, or wild as in:

"Snoop's party on Saturday was off the hook."

"Shizzle-fo-ma-nizzle, yo."

Darn kids... stay offa my lawn.
posted by maniactown at 4:58 PM on May 8, 2003


I think you mean "Fo shizzle ma nizzle," which is really "for shizzle, my nizzle", which is in fact "for sure, my *term of endearment white people generally can't say, for very good reasons*."
posted by Tlogmer at 5:04 PM on May 8, 2003

Either way, that Hyundai ad sucks. It runs during Red Sox games and by the second inning I have plenty of nice things to say to both participants.

"Off the hook" -> "Off the hizook" -> "Off the heezay". Dunno why, but it sure is fun. Someday Snoop will be a Don of English at Oxford.
posted by yerfatma at 5:29 PM on May 8, 2003

"Malkovich" will never be nice.
posted by divrsional at 5:30 PM on May 8, 2003

Malkovich you, divrsional.
posted by gramcracker at 5:43 PM on May 8, 2003

Yo' stupid.
posted by TheFarSeid at 6:29 PM on May 8, 2003

Fo shizzle ma malkovizzle.
posted by homunculus at 6:48 PM on May 8, 2003

damn hippies.
posted by pedantic at 6:53 PM on May 8, 2003

When faced with rudeness from someone I'm not allowed to whack on the head with a mallet...which, as it turns out, is an awful lot of people...I smile and say "That's lovely"...which is the Southern charm school way of saying "Fuck you!"
posted by dejah420 at 7:29 PM on May 8, 2003

Dejah: that's how you say "Fuck you" to someone's face.

When they go away, you can tell whatever slanderous lies you like about them, in grotesque detail, so long as you end with "Bless his heart."

As in, "Oswald Cobblepot... why he's a drunk pedophilic bestial drooling malodorous pervert, bless his heart."

(or just "That Cobblepot boy... I tell you what."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:54 PM on May 8, 2003

and bad's good today.

I've also heard that day's night today.

Additionally, black, white.
posted by soyjoy at 8:02 PM on May 8, 2003

As in, "Oswald Cobblepot... why he's a drunk pedophilic bestial drooling malodorous pervert, bless his heart."

It's so true! And as I read your comment, I realized that I've done it. Which makes it even funnier. (well, to me anyway.)
posted by dejah420 at 8:17 PM on May 8, 2003

posted by majcher at 8:21 PM on May 8, 2003

The way the Brits do it is by saying "oh really", and varying the tone to either be complementary or to mean something on the order of "you stupid git, don't bother me".
posted by Space Coyote at 8:30 PM on May 8, 2003

This is pisser, Miguel, you funny bastard!
posted by madamjujujive at 8:48 PM on May 8, 2003

posted by crunchburger at 9:36 PM on May 8, 2003

Lick my balls.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:45 PM on May 8, 2003

"Smug, greedy well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It's as simple as that. The CIA doesn't kill people anymore, they neutralize people, or they depopulate the area. The government doesn't lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they?"

One of Carlin's greatest bits.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:26 AM on May 9, 2003

*Annotated edition of the Collected Lyrics of Cole Porter sent by special post to soyjoy* :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:52 AM on May 9, 2003

posted by monkey closet at 2:09 AM on May 9, 2003

I've also heard that day's night today.

Additionally, black, white.

posted by Pollomacho at 6:32 AM on May 9, 2003

Who's bad?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:33 AM on May 9, 2003

Snoopy's balls
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:46 AM on May 9, 2003

Have to say this post along with the previous post opened my eyes on slang in terms of age. Slang can be fun for the young & old, but officially, bad. Hard enough loosing your memory as we grow older but making the english language larger will make it harder in the end. Now understand what the foreigners have been telling me about english being hard to learn.

Think about all the words we’ve already learned up to this time in life including our generation of slang then the previous ones too, sheesh. When the young crowd and the old crowd converse together, it’s not about respecting your elders when speaking in familiar terms, but having familiar talk. Share the words so both involved can communicate freely in the talk without cause for pause(s) for explanation(s). There are plenty of slang terms that I know that the young crowd has yet to hear and plenty more that I will learn. The problem, if you make the slang official and your not around these words to know how does one keep up? Words of slang becoming official, bluck.

In conversation with my youngest brother he'll use slang that I’m clueless too. I then notice if the conversation on his side is heavily slanged then my conversation will drift to honest & boring dribble for the both of us. I find it sickening at times, yet he finds my slang sick to go.
posted by thomcatspike at 6:52 AM on May 9, 2003

Amelioration has been discussed recently by the American Dialect Society, which is not surprising. Two members are quoted in the WSJ article.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:02 AM on May 9, 2003

Soapy tit-wank.
posted by i_cola at 7:12 AM on May 9, 2003

GAAAAH! Pollomacho, that's the most disturbing animation I've seen in a while, and I'd already seen - many times - the version with the still images separately arrayed in order.

Anyway, I've actually been interested in this concept for quite a while, specifically in terms of the word "suck," which hasn't come up here at all, unless I missed an additional layer of irony in what yerfatmama said. "Suck" as a bad thing obviously derives from the much older "sucker," meaning "suckler," or infant, someone as credulous as a baby. But it has metamorphosed from referring to breast-sucking to cock-sucking, which is supposedly a universally bad thing, if you listen to how it's applied.

Thing is, apart from maybe Andrea Dworkin and a few of her pals, I don't think there's anybody who believes that it is a bad thing. In fact, at least one half of the species, I'll make so bold as to conjecture, believes it to be a very, very good thing. But our underlying (Western) society is still so rampantly homophobic that we use the word casually every day, slurring both people and inanimate objects by ascribing this act (with homosexual overtones) to them.

Believe it or not, I think that as homophobia is (graaaaadually) squeezed out of mainstream consciousness, "suck" is gonna die off. We'll need some handy derogatory slang term to replace it, and I have nominated: leak.

Think about it: There are any number of occasions on which you want someone or something to suck (and very few where you don't) but you never want something to leak. Leaking is always a bad thing. (A case could be made for the intentional "leaking" of classified info, but in that case, there's at least one central party who very much does not want it to leak.) And it's a nice, short, direct word. So please give this a try next time you have the opportunity:* "this leaks." Who knows? It could be the next 420, and that would be hella cool.

*Not counting, of course, the obvious "this leaks" reply to this post itself.
posted by soyjoy at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2003

Interestingly to me only perhaps : one of the three syllables in my Korean wife's name (95% of all Koreans have three-syllable names) is most easily romanized and generally heard as 'Suck,' although standard romanization spells it 'Seok'. Bring on the redneck jokes, basically.

What where we talking about?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:38 AM on May 9, 2003

My roommate at boarding school was a Korean martial artist named Beom Seok (pronounced Bum Suck), no one made fun of his name, at least no one that lived.

Leaks is a good attempt, but I think the completely derogatory has been used and has sorta died out. Take lousy for instance. Lousy means covered in lice. Now I don't really see how being covered in bloodsucking parasites can ever be a positive experience, thus the term, but how often is lousy thrown around in hip hop songs, almost never. Leak or leaky may not be a positive, but I feel it will go the way of the louse.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:51 AM on May 9, 2003

And it's not as if any good words are making the opposite journey

How about "gay"? Fifty years ago it meant carefree, twenty-five years ago it meant homosexual, and with its current popular use as a term of general derogation "gay" seems to have followed the trajectory of the word "bad" itself, which is thought to descend from Middle English "badde" which meant an effeminate man or a hermaphrodite.
posted by nicwolff at 8:52 AM on May 9, 2003

At least my battle in the comments with the Polish Ubermensch was amusing.

Yes, it was.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:09 AM on May 9, 2003

posted by Guy Smiley at 10:09 AM on May 9, 2003

"Get outta here!"

Cai fora, Malkovich.
posted by hairyeyeball at 11:05 AM on May 9, 2003

posted by Fat Buddha at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2003

Minger. Came from nowhere and ooh.. it hurts.
posted by grahamwell at 1:42 PM on May 9, 2003

My 12-year-old nephew recently asked me how I knew I was gay, because his 15-year-old brother frequently says, "Don't be so gay." He seemed genuinely concerned that his older brother knew something he didn't. I explained, as the 15-year-old was unable to, that gay in this context didn't mean "homosexual" but "weird" or "stupid."

Then I smacked the 15-year-old upside his head.
posted by divrsional at 2:11 PM on May 9, 2003

Oh, man! You kissed a girl? That is so gay!
posted by soyjoy at 8:46 PM on May 9, 2003

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