The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'swearing'
A BBC radio presenter made an unfortunate mispronounciation of the name of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, swapping the first consonant of his surname with that of the word 'culture'. The somewhat ironically named James Naughtie fell foul of the Spoonerism on Radio 4's Today programme when interviewing Hunt about the government's broadband plans. Mr. Hunt seemed to take it in good stride:
Mr Hunt tweeted: "They say prepare for anything before going on Today but that took the biscuit. I was laughing as much as u Jim."I wonder if "jeremy" will become a new piece of rhyming slang, replacing "berk" (from "Berkshire hunt").
On the iPhone, even calculator applications come with obscenity filters, blanking the display if, when the iPhone is turned upside down, the number shown resembles an obscene word.
Gropecunt Lane (pronounced /ˈɡroʊpkʌnt ˈleɪn/) was a street name found in English towns and cities during the Middle Ages, believed to be a reference to the prostitution centred on those areas; it was normal practice for a medieval street name to reflect the street's function or the economic activity taking place within it. Gropecunt, the earliest known use of which is in about 1230, appears to have been derived as a compound of the words "grope" and "cunt". Streets with that name were often in the busiest parts of medieval towns and cities, and at least one appears to have been an important thoroughfare.
Although the name was once common throughout England, changes in attitude resulted in it being replaced by more innocuous versions such as Grape Lane. Gropecunt was last recorded as a street name in 1561.There are currently no streets named Gropecunt Lane in England, them all having been renamed to things like Magpie Lane, Grape Lane, or in some cases, Grope Lane (attributed by the prudish to the narrowness and darkness of the street, not to any untoward activity having taken place there). Perhaps the time has come for a campaign to undo these shameful acts of vandalism and restore this piece of English history?
(via David Gerard)
A chance to watch language changing in real time: the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles has offered to replace all licence plates containing the letters "WTF" free of charge, after the letters became obscene following the rise of internet/text-messaging abbreviations. Nearly 10,000 licence plate holders have the three letters in their plates, though whether they wish to replace them will be up to them. I wonder how many will take up the offer.
Evolutionary psychologist and language specialist Steven Pinker has an article on the neurology and psychology of swearing, how obscene language differs from regular language and whence it gets its power to perturb:
The upshot is that a speaker or writer can use a taboo word to evoke an emotional response in an audience quite against their wishes. Thanks to the automatic nature of speech perception, an expletive kidnaps our attention and forces us to consider its unpleasant connotations. That makes all of us vulnerable to a mental assault whenever we are in earshot of other speakers, as if we were strapped to a chair and could be given a punch or a shock at any time. And this, in turn, raises the question of what kinds of concepts have the sort of unpleasant emotional charge that can make words for them taboo.
The historical root of swearing in English and many other languages is, oddly enough, religion. We see this in the Third Commandment, in the popularity of hell, damn, God, and Jesus Christ as expletives, and in many of the terms for taboo language itself: profanity (that which is not sacred), blasphemy (literally "evil speech" but, in practice, disrespect toward a deity), and swearing, cursing, and oaths, which originally were secured by the invocation of a deity or one of his symbols.
Ths secularization has rendered religious swear words less powerful, creative speakers have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics. To take just one example, why do people use the ungrammatical Fuck you? And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly, Fuck you means? (Some people guess "fuck yourself," others "get fucked," and still others "I will fuck you," but none of these hunches is compelling.) The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries:Pinker goes on to discuss the correlation between the hierarchy of obscene words functions and the disease-carrying power of the substances involved, the social forces behind sexual taboos, and concludes that, since obscene language does have power, it should neither be proscribed outright nor used thoughtlessly:
- Who (in) the hell are you? >> Who the fuck are you?
- Holy Mary! >> Holy shit! Holy fuck!
- Damn you! >> Fuck you!
The common denominator of taboo words is the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone, and it's worth considering how often one really wants one's audience to be reminded of excrement, urine, and exploitative sex. Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to. It's all the more damning for writers, who have the luxury of choosing their words off-line from the half-million-word phantasmagoria of the English language.
When Norman Mailer wrote his true-to-life novel about World War II, The Naked and the Dead, in 1948, his compromise with the sensibilities of the day was to have soldiers use the pseudo-epithet fug. (When Dorothy Parker met him, she said, "So you're the man who doesn't know how to spell fuck.") Sadly, this prissiness is not a thing of the past: Some public television stations today fear broadcasting Ken Burns' documentary on World War II because of the salty language in his interviews with veterans. The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own.
(via Mind Hacks)
The BBC's H2G2 project (which is sort of like a parallel-universe Wikipedia or something) has a wonderfully informative piece on the history and use of British swear words:
Legend has it that in the 1950s, construction kits like Meccano would be sold in boxes of various sizes. The list of contents which came with the standard size box would be headed 'Box, Standard' (which elided into 'bog standard' when spoken) and the larger box was the 'Box, Deluxe' which was spoonerised to create the phrase 'The Dog's B******s'. This is such a satisfying explanation for two common forms of British English usage that one really wants it to be true.
The word would appear to have entered the English language during the early Middle Ages; in 1230AD, both Oxford and London boasted districts called 'Gropecunte Lane', in reference to the prostitutes that worked there. The Oxford lane was later renamed the slightly less-contentious Magpie Lane, while London's version retained a sense of euphemism when it was changed to 'Threadneedle Street'. Records do not show whether it was a decision of intentional irony that eventually placed the Bank of England there.
In 1999, Conservative Future - the youth wing of the Conservative Party - started using the logo 'CFUK'. Sadly, this got them into trouble with the clothing company French Connection UK, who had recently rebranded themselves 'fcuk'. It is strange to think that there may be an entire generation who, like Norman Mailer, cannot spell the word.
In 1987, the American soul group The Tams had a Top 30 UK hit with a song called There Ain't Nothing Like Shaggin'. They were probably rather puzzled to hear that what they regarded as an innocent little ditty about a dance craze was having trouble getting airplay in Britain.
The poet Robert Graves wrote a very odd little book called Lars Porsena, or The Future of Swearing and Improper Language. Writing in the 1920s, he claimed that there was an definite class difference in the use of the words 'bastard' and 'bugger'. He claimed that in the working class, people might well be sensitive about illegitimacy, but were often unfamiliar with homosexuality, and so bastard was a mortal insult and bugger was a much milder term. The severity was reversed in the upper classes, who had nice traceable bloodlines and a boarding-school education. He claimed that bugger was a much more serious insult in upper-class circles, where people were more likely to believe it.
Former NME editor Paul Morley comments on the spectacle of Glen Matlock complaining about the amount of swearing on TV, and asks whether the former Sex Pistol, now a middle-aged family man, has turned against what he stood for, whether he really stood for it in the first place, or whether he has a point:
Clearly, Matlock has decided that as a musician, as an entertainer, he is going to grow old gracefully, even if this means spending most of his time as an unknown. He will not be an expletive-packing Pistol cursing freely into his 50s and 60s, committed to the cause of perpetuating a wild image even as the wrinkles deepen, the flesh softens and the desire crumples. Gene Simmons of Kiss, Alice Cooper, indeed Lemmy are not the right role models for Matlock as he approaches 50, which even if it is the new 40 is not really close enough to the magic years of the 20s where in the old-fashioned sense you can, in a dignified way, wreck yourself, and possibly elements of surrounding civilisation.
Then again, those of us who are watching rich celeb chef Jamie Oliver swear his way through his school dinners show actually might agree with Matlock that there really is too much swearing on television. Middle-of-the-road TV programming freely tosses in the obscenities to suggest there is grit and realism where really there is just frantic emptiness. Matlock might actually be anxious that the swearing is in the wrong mouths, that dull people are exploiting mock controversy as an easy route to commercial attention and that as an ex-Pistol who witnessed the Grundy incident he's responsible for that, and embarrassed by it.