The first fuckwit

The recent launch of the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (AND) gave me a chance to indulge in my long-time hobby of looking up the swear words. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my favourite home-grown colourful language in a future post, but I want to start with an entry that gives me the kind of pride that others expended on the Olympic Games last month.

The entry for fuckwit (p. 647) includes the note:

Used elsewhere but recorded earliest in Australia

That’s right. Australia is the home of the fuckwit. The earliest citation in the AND and the Oxford English Dictionary is from Alex Buzo’s 1970 play The Front Room Boys. The earliest non-Australian citation in the OED is from a 1992 article in Making Music magazine from America.

The second edition of the AND expands the citations for fuckwit, makes a clearer distinction between nominal and adjectival use, and (most importantly) adds an earlier citation for fuckwitted. Here are the entries, along with the earliest few citations:

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Before Twitter, there were Rees’s pieces

Before there was the World Wide Web, there were libraries and bookstores. In high school I loved crawling the shelves of the Banff Book and Art Den, discovering books that would shape my view and style. Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, and Spike Milligan.

Before there was Twitter, there were bathroom walls and similar public surfaces whereon could be etched – or markered or spray-painted – comments on life and sundry witticisms (often recycled).

At the junction of these two was Nigel Rees and his series of books of collected graffiti from around the world, published 1979–1982. I discovered them in the Book and Art Den. They informed my sense of humour (I still use some of the jokes from them) and they instructed me on British swearing patterns and cultural references (such as the “[name] rules, OK” graffiti common around the Sceptred Isle at that time).

Nigel Rees was – is – a BBC luminary, host of the Radio 4 quiz panel show Quote… Unquote. He has collected books of quotations and phrases and anecdotes and such like. Quite a few books, in fact; somewhere north of 50, I believe. I don’t have most of them. But I’ve read Graffiti Lives, O.K., Graffiti 2, Graffiti 3, and Graffiti 4 quite a few times (although only once in the past decade).

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A cussed acrostic

One of the more entertaining literary spats of recent times was between two biographers of the poet John Betjeman (1906–84). It kicked off in earnest when A.N. Wilson, in a review at The Spectator in 2002, described Bevis Hillier’s biography of Betjeman as a ‘hopeless mishmash’:

Some reviewers would say that it was badly written, but the trouble is, it isn’t really written at all. It is hurled together, without any apparent distinction between what might or might not interest the reader. . . . Bevis Hillier was simply not up to the task which he set himself.

Hillier’s three-volume authorised work had taken him 25 years, and he was none too pleased to see it dismissed so. Years later he described Wilson as ‘despicable’. But harsh words were not enough: Hillier wanted retribution, and he got his chance when Wilson undertook to write his own biography of Betjeman.

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Sweary links #21

Dick Assman, a Canadian gas station owner — yes, Assman the Gasman — has died at 82. He achieved fleeting celebrity in the 1990s when Dave Letterman featured him on the Late Show.

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Our new favorite Twitter account: Swear Trek.

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How the “sausage party” is made

As far as strong language goes, sausage party is hardly spicy. It’s a mild slang term for a social gathering in which men greatly outnumber women, usually expressed with a sense of bro-ish disappointment by its male members, er sausages. But a new adult computer-animated movie, Sausage Party, is getting a big rise out of its ham-handed innuendo.

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