Since Strong Language launched, I’ve been cursed. I am seeing swears everywhere. I am hearing swears everywhere. I am constantly thinking about swears and I am swearing about swears. I’m dreaming swears. I’m conjuring up swears where there aren’t even swearwords. While it’s no coprolalia, it is a fucking shitshow. But this is nothing new.
As kids, we capsize calculators: 58008 is flipped into “boobs” or 7734, “hell.” As if charting sweara incognita, we scour maps for Beaverlick, Kentucky or Fucking, Austria. Phonebooks are prank fodder: Mike Hunts, in all their Simpsonian glory, have long unlisted their numbers. Phone numbers are curse codes: It didn’t take long for people to discover that the Obamacare hotline, 1-800-318-2596, dials up some choice words, if we decipher the telephone keypad.
These days, we can’t actually turn our iPhone calculator displays upside down and the Yellow Pages have largely ceded to webpages, but digital technology has yielded some de-fucking-lightful replacements to these analog swears. Top-level domains for country codes–say .ch, .it., or .mn–have inspired the vulgar mind, though not necessarily websites. Emoji have reincarnated the rebus, and that’s no 🐴 💩. (Of course, technology has also proved frustrating, what with the so-called Scunthorpe problem and ducking autocorrect.)
Swearing is in our very composition, especially when it comes to chemicals. The Periodic Table is a veritable playground. Don’t be such an Arsenic Sulfur or Argon Selenium. Eat Plutonium Sulfur Sulfur Yttrium. Suck a Carbon Oxygen Carbon Potassium. Or, the mother of them all: Molybdenum Thorium Erbium Flourine Uranium Carbon Potassium Erbium. Students have achieved yearbook glory in this way, while chemistry has also inspired the artful Periodic Table of Swearing.
It seems nothing is sacred. Where there is a will (and an active 12-year-old imagination), there is a swearword. Formulated differently, where there is symbolic representation, there is swearing. Or at least an opportunity for it. But one thing is for sure. Whether using chemicals or calculators, whether with words or symbols, swearing inspires our creativity and cleverness–and it’s fucking fun.
So, I want to invite your nostalgia or hear your innovations. What swears did you squeeze out of the unlikeliest of places? What symbols did you like to manipulate into expletives? What special swears do you recall from older technologies? (Pagers, anyone? Hell, telegraphs?) How are you discovering new ways to swear with emerging technologies?
Share them, goddamn it.