Burn in 7734, you Arsenic Sulfur

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.

29 thoughts on “Burn in 7734, you Arsenic Sulfur

  1. exexalien January 15, 2015 / 5:59 am

    We used to do the upside down calculator trick as kids, too, In addition to 7734 and 58008, 3704558 reads as “asshole” – as long as you cover the bottom (or top, rather) of the eight with your finger.


    • John Kelly January 15, 2015 / 1:55 pm

      With its length and its manual manipulation, that one was always considered a particularly “advanced” calculator swear.


  2. Iva Cheung January 15, 2015 / 6:05 am

    License plates! http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/florida/assorgy-story and http://www.paulspond.com/index.php?entry=107

    I believe that a lot of jurisdictions don’t allow vowels on their license plates specifically to prevent inadvertently spelling offensive words. I imagine they’d have to deliberately filter out combinations like FCK and SHT, too, but many of them apparently didn’t anticipate what creative people could do with leetspeak.


    • Y January 16, 2015 / 1:53 am

      4QUEUE is a California plate that snuck in.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jean Hay March 10, 2015 / 11:07 am

      I remember being quite shocked at a mid 1990s licence plate in my Queensland, Australia hometown – TRY69.


    • John Kelly January 15, 2015 / 1:53 pm

      Charlie Uniform November Tango also brings to mind the schoolyard tease, “See you next Tuesday!” I wrote about “broke-dick” in an earlier post, which some referred to as “bravo delta”: https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/and-a-broke-dick-piece-of-shit-drill/. What’s great about the radio/army alphabet is its dual use: It is used to generate swears (as in Charlie Uniform November Tango) but conceal them (as in “bravo delta”).


      • Nancy Friedman January 16, 2015 / 6:27 pm

        If You See Kay is a wine brand that claims to take its name from James Joyce: http://ifyouseekaywines.com/downloads/IYSK_brandstory.pdf

        And “If U Seek Amy” was a 2009 song from Britney Spears. From Wikipedia: “The title, ‘If U Seek Amy’, is a double entendre, meaning to sound like ‘F-U-C-K me” when heard in the chorus, ‘All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy.’ This double entendre was compared to the title of Van Halen’s 1991 album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, as well as a portion of James Joyce’s Ulysses.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • John Kelly January 17, 2015 / 4:36 pm

        There’s also The Dream’s Florida University, whose rousing chorus culminates in “FU / FU / FU / FU / FU / FU/ Florida University.”


  3. justme792 January 15, 2015 / 1:05 pm

    I’ve quite the same thing as you. I don’t hear or see swearwords everywhere – luckily not 😛 But I researched (for my Bachelor’s and Master’s) the alternating pronunciations of certain words. Now I can’t help analysing the speech of every person around me. I try to find something deviating in every word people say. It gets really annoying sometimes…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. sesquiotic January 15, 2015 / 2:35 pm

    Let us not forget the letter-number substitutions popular among certain sets now – 455h013 for asshole, for instance.


  5. misterslang January 15, 2015 / 5:29 pm

    As regards Mike Hunt (see inter alia The Swell’s Night Out (1841) ‘The dance was followed by an out-and-out song by Mike Hunt, whose name was called out in a way that must not be mentioned to ears polite.’) let us not forget his friend, whose name was coupled with his in a mid-19th century song title: Job Halls.


    • John Kelly January 16, 2015 / 1:22 pm

      A jaunty song it must have been indeed! On a side note, how common a given name was Job in the 19th-century?


  6. Andrew January 15, 2015 / 9:16 pm

    I was at a presentation given by a computer company about their latest product, which was software for the small car maintenance company or garage. I remember staring open mouthed as a plaque was revealed which read…..
    “Wang Car Care”


    • John Kelly January 16, 2015 / 1:18 pm

      Be sure to look for more posts from Nancy Friedman: This kind of name-brand hilarity is her turf. Sofa King, for one.


  7. datatater January 15, 2015 / 10:59 pm

    One less-than-sober night at college, while calling for pizza delivery, my friend (who shall remain nameless as he is a sober adult academician now) requested “plenty of shit on it.” We were too old and jaded to get more than a mild chuckle out of that, but as the magic 30-minute mark approached, we began to speculate, and even to fear. What would we get? What might they do? The box arrived, the dude departed, we gathered around… …opened the top… …written in thick black marker on the inside cover, with an arrow pointing down, “HERE’S YOUR SHIT”. We never knew who that pizza man was, but he had a place in our hearts from that night on. We kept that box LONG after sensible (and hygienic) people would have tossed it.


    • John Kelly January 16, 2015 / 1:20 pm

      That pizza man is a true hero, indeed. I can recall many a fond pizza-based pranks, but this one’s for the books.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dave & Sharynne Wilder January 16, 2015 / 11:23 am

    From our high-school days in California in the early 60s: “the Fuggers,” a 15th century Austrian family of merchants and bankers.


    • John Kelly January 16, 2015 / 1:21 pm

      I can just see their children, the lil fuggers. But they grow up so fast, the big fuggers. Mother fugger raised them well.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Incidental Scribe January 16, 2015 / 10:58 pm

    I remember being young and thinking the French word for seal..fuc was so delightful. When you got in trouble you said what I’m just saying seal in French.


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