Down the “shithole”: Why lexicographers need your profanity

Originally published on harm•less drudg•ery

Though the average lexicographer is as odd as a horse in trousers, we are, at least, a staid and quiet horse in trousers most of the time. There’s very little that will rile us up, and that’s a feature, not a bug.

But there is one event that makes most lexicographers startle and gasp in delight, one event that will get us to look up from our desks and start shivering and chittering like lab rats on cocaine:

God bless the motherfucking Washington Post

When a well-respected newspaper prints the word “shithole.” Continue reading

The Wide, Wide World of Fucks: Finland

Language, linguists will tell you, doesn’t exist in a hermetically sealed vacuum: it has speakers, and those speakers exist within a particular time, place, and context. That means that the language is also affected by time, place, and context. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a quick-and-dirty overview of common Finnish swear words.

Finland is, for those who don’t know, the Nordic country bordered by Sweden on the west and Russia on the east. It is, as a country, a bit of a cipher: in spite of spending most of its medieval and modern history as either a duchy of Sweden or Russia, it’s neither Scandinavian nor Slavic, but its own little island of Finno-Ugricness.  Finns on the whole are reserved folks, yet their best-known export is Lordi and they proudly support what might be the only Men’s Shouting Chorus in the world. They’re also people of very, very few words, no doubt because they must regularly rassle with the likes of peruspalveluliikelaitoskuntayhtymä (which refers to a regional community health provider). In short, they are a people of contradictions, and their swearing is no different.

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Hush, little baby, don’t say that word: toys and swearing

The Internet has been a-twitter this week with news that McDonald’s, that venerable fast-food chain, has been ruining children’s lives. No, this is not about nutrition–what do you think this is, a food blog? No, this is about Minions.

Minions, for those unaware, are the little yellow figures that resemble walking, babbling Advil capsules and which debuted in the movie Despicable Me. They currently have their own movie and consequently their own requisite appearance as the toy of the season in the McDonald’s Happy Meal(TM). The McDonald’s toys babble when you tap them on a hard surface, and here is where the proverbial shit hits the fan: parents are complaining that one of the toys barks “what the fuck.” Continue reading

Damn it backwards into a narrow space with “Fry & Laurie”

If you love words, then you are probably familiar with Stephen Fry, and if you’re familiar with Stephen Fry, then you are damn certain familiar with A Bit of Fry & Laurie. Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry’s sketch comedy show featured a number of sketches on language, with special emphasis on subtle but masterfully done profanity. (Video-heavy post follows.)

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Add -shit and stir: The intensifying affixal -shit

It began when I called someone a dipshit on Thanksgiving. (To be fair, the object of my displeasure–me– earned the sobriquet.) What a word, I mused: it must be a compound of the verb dip and shit, as if someone incompetent or stupid was so repugnant that they might as well be “dipped in shit.”

Alas for etymological fallacy: dipshit is not a compound created from the verb dip and the noun shit. It is, instead, a compound of the earlier noun dip, meaning “a stupid or incompetent person,” and the noun shit.

So who gives a fuck? I give said fuck. I had always assumed that dip was the bowdlerization of dipshit. Instead, it turns out that dipshit is an expansion and intensification of the earlier, tamer dip. It is expurgation turned ass over teakettle. Dip not strong enough for you? Just add –shit and stir.

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