“…and a broke-dick piece of shit drill.”

As if my brain weren’t already a mush of holiday music, there’s a new earworm stuck in my head. (And soon in yours, too.) They say the holiday season is all about giving, so I’m handing this sweary little gift to you.

Today, a student wanted to share with me a music video of sorts (a holiday promo for Payday 2, a video game) that had been splitting his sides all day:

Student: Can we watch it? There’s swearing.

Me (no hesitation): Absolutely.

(I work with adults with various exceptionalities, in case either the permission or the query raised your eyebrows.)

There’s a lot going here–swearing-wise and swearing aside. The prosody and phonology of “…and a broke-dick piece of shit drill” works quite well with the actual cadence of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” for one. Video games, for another, are impressively cinematic nowadays.

But it’s broke-dick that really pricked my ears, as it struck me as 1) an exceptional swear, featuring both the percussive phonology of English cusswords, which James Harbeck explored earlier, and productive patterns of affixation, which Strong Language contributors are presently cooking up some great posts about; and 2) an at once old-fashioned-sounding yet somehow contemporary swear.

So, I did some initial research. I’m not a slang expert, but we do have one contributing to Strong Language: the eminent Mister Slang himself, Jonathon Green.  I consulted his Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (2005), which glosses broke-dick as U.S. slang for “useless” and “worthless” and places it in the 1960s. Carrying a basic meaning of “impotent,” it’s a clear compound of broke, itself non-standard, and dick, whose history I won’t dare to begin playing with in this post. By 1975, the term was an adjective for “non-functioning,” according to my quick check of The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2007). By 1988, the previous reference continues, it became military slang for a “non functioning piece of hardware,” referred euphemistically and radio-telephonically to as bravo delta. Hence its particular application to a drill in the video.

I’m definitely leaving it to the experts to properly tell the story of broke-dick, but one thing is for sure: Swear words do things, whether its abusive, emphatic (“strong language,” if you will), or cathartic, to name a few. Being all broke up with laughter, my student enjoyed the latter. Swearing–a little joy to the world.

23 thoughts on ““…and a broke-dick piece of shit drill.”

  1. prior December 19, 2014 / 9:56 am

    I am trying not to swear and so I may actually have to not follow your blog – lol – but this was so funny….

    Like

    • prior December 19, 2014 / 9:59 am

      also someone sent me this –

      Like

      • John Kelly December 19, 2014 / 1:48 pm

        As they say, “The couple that swears together, stays together.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • prior December 19, 2014 / 3:29 pm

        this is true John, but sometimes I just feel like if we over use some of these power words (especially the f work) well they lose some impact.

        and here is what gave us a fun laugh – the rich adjectives used for the “Hand me keys” from Usual Suspects

        Like

  2. Stan Carey December 19, 2014 / 10:34 am

    Sounds like your students appreciated the lesson, John! I don’t hear broke-dick often, and so far I think it’s always been on-screen (or in written dialogue) rather than in speech in my immediate environment. Its synonym broke-ass seems more common.
    I would note that it doesn’t involve affixation: neither part of the compound is an affix.

    Like

  3. gengojeff December 19, 2014 / 1:25 pm

    >and dick, whose history I won’t dare to begin playing with in this post.

    By all means, do some dick play in a future post!

    Like

  4. John Kelly December 19, 2014 / 1:47 pm

    I agree that broke-ass seems to have more currency. I tend to hear broke-ass, moreover, in the phrase broke-ass motherfucker, especially in contexts of financial destitution. I’d be curious to see if any game’s/game character’s idiolects move any swear usage dials. Gaming culture is a big one, of course.

    Ah, forgive my broke-dick use of affixation. Combining element, morpheme more accurate…?

    Like

  5. BlueLoom December 19, 2014 / 2:14 pm

    Thanks for this Christmas gift.

    I’m another convert to your new blog from the Language Log link. Also a Very Old Lady whose lifetime wish has been to live long enough to become a salty old lady. I guess I’m already there. 🙂

    Like

    • John Kelly December 19, 2014 / 10:35 pm

      SOL: Shit out of luck? Nope. Salty old lady. With age come wisdom—and the right to really tell it like it is.

      Like

  6. sesquiotic December 19, 2014 / 2:50 pm

    One fun part of this is looking at other possible and impossible substitutions:

    • broke-shit (maybe? but obviously not before piece-of-shit)
    • broke-fuck (euphonious, but a solid noun seems needed?)
    • broke-nuts (sounds acceptable to me, aside from OUCH)
    • broke-cock (I think not, because we don’t use cock in the same ways as dick)
    • broke-cunt (maybe… thoughts? sounds a bit too much like just broken, though)
    • broke-twat (sounds usable)

    I do find that for any one of the above, the more I look at it, the more I can get used to it. I suspect that this is a common thing with expletive insertions: initially transgressive of grammar (within parameters) and coming through habituation to be unremarkable. I have it in mind to piece together a general theory of the morphosyntax of taboo language insertions.

    Like

    • John Kelly December 19, 2014 / 11:05 pm

      “A general theory of the morphosyntax of taboo language insertions”: YES. Broke-tits?

      Like

  7. Don December 21, 2014 / 7:22 pm

    I heard “broke-dick” a lot in my Navy days. It was just a general insult, which I took to mean, “You have a broke(n) dick.” But it could be applied to objects, not just people.

    My Navy days also included “The Twelve Days of Boot Camp,” which ended with “And a hair cut that wasn’t worth a fuck.”

    Like

    • John Kelly December 21, 2014 / 7:43 pm

      Yes, the basic notion is of a “broken dick.” Insults to impotence–and one’s largely masculinity–are behind a number of slang terms and swear.

      Thanks for the first-hand usage note. When were you in the Navy, if I may ask? Any other common swears you can recall? Also, I’d love to hear all 12 verses of “The Twelve Days of Boot Camp.”

      Like

      • Don December 22, 2014 / 11:39 pm

        I was in the Navy from ’75 to ’77 (then Reserve duty another three years).

        On the second day of boot camp, the Navy gave to me: two boon-dockers [the ankle-boots we wore as work shoes] and a haircut that wasn’t worth a fuck.

        The only other verse I remember for sure was: Five hours of sleep.
        Two other verses, whose numbers I don’t remember, are:
        X hours of marching party [punishment]
        and
        Y pairs of skivvy shorts

        As for common swears, there were so many . . . attached to just about every occasion possible. For example, hands were routinely referred to as “dick-skinners.”

        This collection of Navy jargon and slang includes some good ones, though it’s heavy on airdale [naval aviation] terms that I didn’t learn while on a surface ship, as well as British stuff I never heard [but enjoy reading]:

        http://goatlocker.org/resources/nav/navyslang.pdf

        Here is its definition of broke-dick:

        Broke-dick: Technical term describing malfunctioning or inoperable equipment. Example:” The fuckin’ auxdrain pump is fuckin’ broke-dick.”

        Liked by 1 person

  8. wilson December 21, 2014 / 11:44 pm

    So, “broke-dick” became somehow occulted after the 60’s, appropriated by the military? Or did the term originate with servicemen, like Fubar? Bravo delta! Either way, it’s a helluva pinch.

    Like

    • John Kelly December 31, 2014 / 1:15 pm

      It seems it was in general use before going into service, best I can tell.

      Like

  9. John Kelly December 22, 2014 / 1:58 pm

    Good question. Again, I’ll defer to the slang experts on this, but my initial research is suggesting that “broke-dick” passed from its more popular use into its specific military appropriation.

    Like

  10. John Cowan December 25, 2014 / 3:40 am

    Mencken (I think) says that as long ago as World War I, when an American sergeant said to the men, “Get your fucking rifles!” it was a routine order, but if he said “Get your rifles!” it was serious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Kelly December 31, 2014 / 1:18 pm

      I enjoy this anecdote, as it has much truth: the absence of a swear can be so much stronger than the presence of one. It points to 1) how swears often yield their power via their relative rarity, inverted here, of course; and 2) the importance of swearing to particular subcultures/speaker identity.

      Like

  11. Galaxy Jane March 25, 2015 / 9:29 pm

    1) Broke-dick is still certainly still common parlance in the Army and in fact is probably the only place I ever hear it.

    2) My Soldiers know that when I stop cussing they’ve crossed the fucking line.

    Like

  12. Geecheeboy November 19, 2016 / 5:54 am

    My 72 year old brother in law likes to say “I feel like a broke-dick dog” at the end of a day or especially long and arduous task.

    Like

    • John Kelly November 30, 2016 / 5:33 pm

      Very interesting and colorful usage. Was he military?

      Like

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