It’s a bit surprising that the eminently productive -y suffix wasn’t tacked onto fuck—a very old word—until relatively recently. In its short lifetime, fucky has managed to play several different roles. Here’s a rough timeline: Continue reading
Back in July 2015, when I wrote about the spread of “as fuck” and its abbreviation, “AF,” my sightings were limited to tweets, rap-album titles, and small-batch consumer goods sold on Etsy and other online marketplaces. In a comment on my post, “Y” predicted a bigger future for “AF”: “It’ll be co-opted by the mainstream. In fifty years, Modern Maturity will have recipes for Scrumptious-as-Fuck Cupcakes, and Midwesterners will tell their minister that his sermon was def as fuck.”
Fifty years? Try 22 months. That’s how long it took for New York–based FoodKick to launch its cheeky-as-fuck ad campaign in subways and social media.
AF is officially dead AF. pic.twitter.com/u7IqzLNcDH
— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) April 9, 2017
Strong Language contributor Jonathon Green (@misterslang), the author of Green’s Dictionary of Slang, has a new project of special interest to SL readers: Slang Family Trees. “The aim,” writes Jonathon, “is to look at some of slang’s primary themes and show the way the lexis assesses given topics on a semantic basis.” The trees are constructed with mind-mapping software and appear as .pdf files. To get started, see vagina, penis, and drunk.
This is a guest post by Cory O’Brien (@bettermyths), who is currently studying American Sign Language (ASL) at Columbia College Chicago. Cory has published two swear-laden books, George Washington is Cash Money and Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes, and runs a Swear of the Month Club which you can subscribe to at: patreon.com/bettermyths.
The signers in the GIFs below are Ethan Cook and Peter Wujcik, Deaf ASL tutors at Columbia College Chicago.
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Whenever I tell someone that I’m studying American Sign Language, there is a nonzero chance that they’ll trot out the same tired joke: “Oh yeah? I know some sign language! [Flips me the bird.]” They laugh, and I laugh, and we promptly stop being friends. Really, though, these people have no idea just how right they are. It’s only that, when you’re talking about a language that has spent hundreds of years figuring out how to squeeze the absolute most meaning out of every part of a hand, merely throwing up a middle finger is the linguistic equivalent of showing up to a duel and then firing your pistol straight into the air.
In English, the middle finger is a gesture, as opposed to a word. A gesture is a physical (or verbal) action, like a nod or a head shake or a grunt, that you can’t use as a part of a longer sentence. You can’t say “[middle finger] you, Steve!” You can dress your middle finger up with all kinds of fancy pageantry – pretending to peel a banana, or scratch your eye, or crank a jack-in-the-box, for example – but the meaning is always more or less the same: Fuck you.
In ASL, the middle finger itself still isn’t a word, but it’s not exactly a gesture either. It’s a part of a word, a morpheme. Signs in ASL have five distinct elements that give them meaning: Location, Palm Orientation, Hand Shape, Movement, and Non-Manual Markers (essentially facial expressions). In ASL, the iconic meaning of the middle finger (an erect cock and balls) has been almost entirely eliminated, but the emotional connotations of the gesture have been retained. So, when incorporated into a sign, the middle finger provides the hand shape, but the meaning of that hand shape in context varies drastically depending on the other parameters used, allowing for an endless array of middle-finger-based swears and idioms. What follows is a mere sampling of that variety, and the techniques used to create it.
Whereas in English we flip someone off with the back of our hand oriented towards the offending party, ASL has made the palm orientation a meaning component, adapting the gesture so that the middle finger points towards the object of the swear:
This is part of a larger tendency in ASL to encode subject–object relationships with directional verbs. Another example is the idiom “Mutual Hatred”:
Expletive infixing is a much-loved mode of profanity. Is profanity good for you? Absofuckinglutely. Does infixing serve profanity as what James B. McMillan once called an “emotional stress amplifier”? I guarangoddamntee it. For most of us, infixings like these and interposings like shut the fuck up aren’t everyday speech, but nowadays, they’re hardly shocking. If you’re just not paying attention to your conversation, an infixing might take you by surprise, but the surprise will be mild, and the forms cleave so well to rules that they are obviously — gasp! — conventional. How does one draw attention to the unconventionality of one’s speech when infixing gets — yawn — a bit tired?
In fact, the rules of infixing are constantly under construction and repertoire of profanity thus constantly renewed. A March 2016 post at Celebslam, “Model at Midnight,” celebrated the Polish model Kate Sajur’s putatively “sweet rack.” It attracted the attention of Carmen Ribecca of The Superficial, an even better celebrity gossip site. Ribecca’s “good morning” post of April 1, 2016, included “Hell the fuck to the lo Kate Sajur” among several other enticing links. I’m less interested in the rack than I am in Ribecca’s novel twist on infixing. Like much other slang and profanity, Ribecca’s headline is poetic. Like many on-the-fly poets, Ribecca does what Ezra Pound exhorted poets to do when they could find nothing new under the sun: “Make it new.”