By their euphemisms shall ye know them.
I am hardened – how not? – but I gather that motherfucker, that ‘Oedipal polysyllable’, remains the most (least?) popular of all the so-called ‘obscenities’. The dirtiest of the dirty, the least permissible among all the tabooed. Rivaled only by cunt, and of course far, far younger as a coinage, it is presumably the innate incestuousness that gets everyone’s knickers in a twist. This is not just to have sex, but to have sex with your, omigod, mother. It seems to have been an African-American coinage, of the 1890s, and it may even be that the extra distaste it elicits offers a smidgeon of racism. Like the impetus for America’s earliest cannonades in its war on drugs — the fact that cannabis was linked to Mexicans and cocaine to blacks was justification enough to condemn the products – the word may be double-damned by association.
It might be suggested that compared to those for copulation – some 1,750 alternatives – or for the male and female genitals – around 1,400 apiece – motherfucker scores low for euphemisms. What, after all are all those synonyms, those gropings for trout in a peculiar river, those holy pokers and aphrodisiacal tennis courts but ways of sidestepping fuck, prick and cunt? Yet they are sidesteps and, deprived of context, might not immediately reveal themselves. Motherfucker’s alternatives, are less coy. Barely, I would suggest, alternatives at all. That, of course, could be the point.
I doubt that the 65 that follow are a complete roster. The terror of certain strings of vowels and consonants that still stalks much of our mass media will ensure that. But they are what I have found to date. I look forward to additions.
maternal fornicator (doesn’t roll off the tongue so naturally, but good for sharing anecdotes involving the use of the actual word in polite company or within earshot of the little ones)
mother scratcher (as in “No, not that mother-scratcher Bill Parker…” as heard in The Coen Brothers’ classic Raising Arizona)
As I said: not a complete roster. Thank you.
Others I know of:
– monkey fighter
– motor scooter (as in the songs “Bad Motor Scooter” by Montrose and “Alley Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles (“he’s a mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter”))
– I myself have coined “mattress flipper” for this use
– the broadcast-TV people use “Mister Falcon” when showing the movie Die Hard 2, because one of the characters uses the radio call-sign “Falcon”
– there was a Redd Foxx sitcom of the 1980s where it seems he used the term “mother father”
– another song: “Mammer Jammer” by Don and Dewey. Seemed to refer to a dance (“You got to do the Mammer Jammer / If you want my love”) but still
I say “motherfucker” all the time – with no complicated consonant blends, and the progression of the consonants in the word as well as the emphasis on alternating syllables (emphasis on first and third syllable as opposed to, say, second and third syllable), this combination rolls off the tongue rather easily.
Plus, when you use the word as a woman in a professional setting, you get some pretty entertaining looks.
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I, too, use it all the time, without even thinking–and certainly without thinking about snogging someone’s mother. The Russians use it the same way, for almost anything: “ёб твою мать!” (Yób tvoyú mat’), meaning “Really?!”, “Gosh!”, literally ” (I) fucked your mother”, also serves as an exclamation of discontent. As I said, almost anything–except what it actually means.
David Simon wrote:
Being British, I don’t much use motherfucker. It is a particularly American word, if not in reality, certainly by perception.
Instead ‘cunt’ is our equivalent. However, I’d hazard that it is a more flexible word. Cunt can be a huge insult, but in Scotland, where I’m from, it can also be used as a term of endearment “Decent kinda cunt, that guy.” Or it can be used just to mean guy. “Not a bad cunt, that cunt.” Irvine Welsh captures its usage well in his novels.
SRB: It’s similar in Ireland: I associate motherfucker mostly with American culture, but cunt is relatively common here, and quite often lacks any pejorative intent. (Then again, most insults in Ireland lead double lives as terms of affection.) You might enjoy our guest post by Kate Warwick on the ‘connotative cunt‘, which looks at why the word is considered so offensive.
There is a weird sense of stigma about ‘cunt’ though even for us Celts. I’d say ‘fuck’ in front of my Dad, but somehow it would feel disrespectful to say ‘cunt.’ Yet to my sister I’d say ‘cunt’ when telling an anecdote. Conclusion: it is a mysterious cunt of a word.
I’ve been involved in the music scene–jazz and rock–for going on four decades and have long noted how acceptable motherfucker is among musicians….it is more often endearing (how are ya, motherfucker?) and complimentary (you are a motherfucker!) than used negatively, though it can be an insult as well. It can be used in front of women and used by women, but rarely applied to women. Outside music I hear it far less and rarely in any way but negative. I assume you can trace that back to jazz musicians, where so much of musician-speak originates. Cunt, on the other hand, is rarely heard and considered harsh, except by English musicians.
I’m a writer, and noticed long ago how little other writers drop motherfucker into conversations. I do all the time, although not deliberately, and I assume other writers figure it’s because I was a drummer and don’t know any better, big dumb motherfucker that I am.
If I want to use motherfucker as a genuinely angry, insulting swear word, I’ll precede it with a rat fuck. That’s not a term of endearment, unless I was in a band with the stupid motherfucker, and he got me arrested. But that’s another story.
One euphemism that I particularly enjoyed came from a guy I used to play the trombone with in a big band in Nashville. He would say, “That earmuff couldn’t tune a radio.”
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I rather like, “He couldn’t pour piss from a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.”
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