You’re in luck if you sell FUCK ME formalwear, own the NO SHIT diner, or produce HEY ASSHOLE pepper spray. You’ll soon be able to head over to the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and register those trademarks. Because the U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled in the Brunetti case that the statutory bars on registering “scandalous” and “immoral” trademarks are unconstitutional.
The New York Times has a replete searchable archive. Every issue is there. But every issue from before 1996 has been OCRed (has had optical character recognition performed on it) and in general has not been checked by human eyes. The result is that sometimes the words you see online are not the words that were in print. And word forms are sometimes misrecognized as other lexical items, such as fuck, rather than as unintelligible collections of characters. (The word fuck per se has appeared many times in The New York Times even before recent years, especially in excerpts from books.)
And so we get this headline from September 29, 1950:
Oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in Iancu v. Brunetti centered on the word FUCT. Well, sort of. As one of the lawyers fussily put it, it centered on “the equivalent of the past participle form of the paradigmatic profane word in our culture.” Right. FUCT.
The case is all about offensive, shocking and profane language. Yet the Justices and the parties’ attorneys pussyfooted around for an hour, steering the argument clear of anything even remotely R-rated. The attitude that there are several words so offensive they cannot be spoken aloud dominated the hearing. It may well dominate the Court’s eventual opinion.
Here’s the backdrop for all of that tiptoeing around those unspeakably naughty words.
Back in December 2014 when the Strong Language blog was just starting out, Stephen Chrisomalis contributed a memorable post, “How many swears can we give?” In it, Stephen mused on a couple of memes — “Look At All The Fucks I Give” and “Not a Single Fuck Was Given That Day” — and traced the history of “(not) give a TABOO TERM” (damn, shit, fuck, etc.) as what linguists call a “negative polarity item.” The following year, John Kelly posted about a newly popular idiom, “zero fucks given.” (Zero fucks given or ZFG was also nominated in the Most Useful category in the American Dialect Society’s 2015 Word of the Year voting.) Since then, there have been many more creative variations on the theme. Here are two humorous entries in the “no fucks/shits to give” genre that have popped up recently.
You know what I’m talking about, fellow U.S.ians? Let’s get this motherfucker over with already, even though we know that campaigning for the fucking 2020 general election will begin on November 7, and the festering rancor will probably continue into the 23rd century, if the melting icecaps don’t inundate us first.
I mean, take a look at the contents of my mailbox.
Tired of it all? Me too! But instead of turning my frown upside down, I’m turning weary into sweary. Here are a few fucking points of light in the gloom.