Fuck, shit, bollocks, twat, bloody, and cunt are not the seven words you can never say on television – they’re six words that Susie Dent has said on television. Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing, a new mini-series from Channel 4, offers an informative and irreverent summary of the history and use of some of our favourite bad words. You can watch the full series below.
A word-history specialist and broadcaster, Dent has written several books on language, most recently Dent’s Modern Tribes. She is best known as the resident lexicographer in ‘dictionary corner’ on Countdown, a perennially popular British TV game show. We can’t not mention that Countdown inadvertently produces the odd rude word to great general amusement.
Though she went to a convent school and was not allowed to swear at home (aside from an occasional bloody that ‘managed to fly below the radar’), Dent tells me she didn’t rebel into foulmouthedness. She loves swear words but doesn’t swear often – except at moments of stress or pain, when it ‘most definitely helps’. There’s a word for that:
We’re pleased AF to welcome Very Bad Words, a new podcast from radio producer Matt Fidler about “our complex relationship with swearing and forbidden language,” to the sweary community. A new episode, “WTF, FCC?”, explores what’s permitted and what’s verboten on the airwaves. You can follow Very Bad Words on Twitter, too.
Update: You can read Ben Zimmer’s appreciation of the Very Bad Words podcast on Slate.
No sweatsuit or athleisure wear for the professional mixed martial artist and boxer Conor McGregor, no siree. At a press conference hyping his August 26 bout with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor wore a custom suit whose pinstripes were composed of the repeated phrase “FUCK YOU.” According to Esquire, the suit was made for McGregor by David August, an American brand of “timeless made-to-measure clothing for the modern man.” The company’s CEO, David Heil, told Esquire: “I felt weaving this specific phrase into the cloth was the perfect way to bring together the bespoke details of a custom suit and Conor’s personality.”
Earlier this month, Whores of Yore published a set of letters that James Joyce wrote to his wife, Nora Barnacle. These letters are taken from Richard Ellmann’s Selected Letters of James Joyce (Faber & Faber, London), and they are delightfully raunchy filth. Joyce’s discussion of topics including masturbation, anal sex, coprophilia and his sexual desire for his wife are frank enough to even make a Strong Language reader blush a little.
Before I’d even stopped blushing, there were some words that got me thinking. And so, I present some annotations to some of the language in the letters. Thanks to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Merriam-Webster (MW) and Dictionary.com for providing a trove of information.
“Nora, my faithful darling, my sweet-eyed blackguard schoolgirl, be my whore, my mistress, as much as you like” (2 December 1909)
Here Joyce affectionately uses a term that means ‘dishonourable’ or ‘villainous’, which may be lost on the modern reader. He also uses the term a half a dozen times in Ulysses, but only ever in reference to men.