Among many other things, Madeline Kripke was a collector of dictionaries and other language books. At her death, in April 2020, an early victim of the Covid-19 pandemic, she left behind more than 20,000 books, boxes full of manuscripts — from an early Merriam-Webster archive to her own purchasing records, essential to determining the provenance of her many acquisitions — and ephemera, so much that she could barely move in her Greenwich Village apartment. But impressive as they are, the numbers are less important than her curation: she wasn’t a hoarder, and she didn’t collect accidentally or on a whim, but purposefully and with great knowledge of the history of people’s interest in language. She was a formidable scholar who chose to exercise her intelligence, not by teaching in a university, but by curating a peerless private collection. Much of that collection is devoted to strong language or language adjacent to it.
Martha Gellhorn and all-American-lady-swearing
Sentimentally, we like to think that ladies of an earlier time — mostly our grandmothers and great-grandmothers — lived virtuous lives, without swearing. When Joseph Mitchell profiled A. S. Colborne, who spent much of his life trying to exterminate profanity, for The New Yorker in 1941, he captured the paradoxical view of women’s swearing, partly as a function of class, at that time. When Mitchell visited one day, Colborne explained, “I’m sort of sleepy … Sat up late last night studying over bar and grill profanity. Why, the women are worse than the men. And you can’t talk to them! Why, they’ll spit in your eye!” But then, he remembered that when he first started admonishing swearers on the street, he would insist, “‘Your dear old mother never taught you to talk like that. Think it over!” But maybe some mothers did, and some classy women of the mid-twentieth century apparently swore a lot, whatever our mythology.
I was reminded of this while reading Janet Somerville’s new selection of Martha Gellhorn’s letters, Yours, for probably always (Firefly Books, 2019) and then Caroline Morehead’s Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life (Henry Holt and Company, 2003). Gellhorn is a remarkable writer, perhaps most famous for her war reporting. The final edition of The Face of War (1988), collects dispatches from the Spanish Civil War, the wars in Finland and China, Word War II, wars in Java and Vietnam, the Six Day War, and Central American wars. She wrote fiction, too, perhaps most importantly The Trouble I’ve Seen (1936), four stories about the Great Depression. To my mind, Gellhorn is one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.
The U.S. trademark register is full of shit (or at least a few turds)
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been refusing plenty of applications for marks containing curse words on the dubious ground that they are too commonplace to serve as trademarks. Ever. As I explained in my last post, these applications include SHUT THE FUCK UP legal services, KEEP FUCKING GOING jewelry, and YOU’RE AWESOME KEEP THAT SHIT UP dinnerware and oven mitts.
After that shocking exposé, we’ve earned a sweary tour through those scandalous marks that have made it onto the federal register. Applying to register these before the Supreme Court eliminated the ban in 2019 would have been a complete waste of time and money. But they have now officially penetrated the federal database. I’m not including the multiple asterisked-for-your-protection marks now on the register, though those too wouldn’t have made it through during the heyday of the scandalousness ban.
Let’s start with the shitstorm. Continue reading
If anycunt says it, will everycunt accept it?
This is a guest post by Gary Thoms and E. Jamieson. Gary Thoms is from Glasgow, and is an Assistant Professor at New York University. E Jamieson is a Scot from outside the central belt, and is a postdoc at the University of Glasgow. Both work on Scots syntax.
Viewers of Saturday Kitchen, a Saturday morning magazine show broadcast on the BBC in the UK, were treated to a sudden and unexpected airing of the c-word this Saturday past. “Dan from Edinburgh” called in to ask the celebrity chef hosts a question about Christmas dinner.
“You ken what it’s like this time of year, every cunt’s banging on about parsnips and all that, so what’s a barry side for Christmas?” Continue reading
A fuck shit stack of sweary songs
My last collection of sweary songs began with some vintage a cappella filth about cocksuckers. For balance, I’ll start this one with The Fourskins’ winning ditty ‘Her Vagina’ (most audio that follows is VNSFW):
Want ruder? Harry Roy and His Orchestra sang about ‘My Girl’s Pussy’ almost a century ago. Warning: this one has serious earworm potential:
(Comic artist R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders introduced me to the song.)
A lyric for our times: ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’ by Martha Wainwright: