Pussyfooting around FUCT

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.  UCT.

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.

Continue reading

New frontiers in the giving of fucks and shits

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.
Continue reading

The fucking midterm elections

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.

Oakland, California, October 29, 2018. Not shown: election-related emails, texts, and robocolls.

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.

Continue reading

Swears in the news

What a fucking week! In the U.S., Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement — but only after siding with the court majority in upholding President Trump’s travel ban and bestowing a judicial blessing on anti-abortion facilities. The Environment Protection Agency’s chief ethics officer recommended an investigation of his own boss. Immigrant children as young as 3 were being ordered to appear in court alone. A gunman with a festering grudge shot up the newsroom of a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five employees. And in the UK … well, we’ll get there in a minute.

It was, in short, a week guaranteed to elicit a lot of strong language, and on that score it did not disappoint. Here’s a brief round-up.

*

Continue reading

Great moments in swearing: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet is a film with an enduring power to unsettle viewers. Its unique brand of ‘darkness in colour’ (to borrow Pauline Kael’s phrase) features also at the level of language, with the cornball goofing of its young sweethearts set against the malevolent and compulsive profanity of Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper.

For his book Lynch on Lynch, Chris Rodley asked David Lynch if all of Frank’s fucks were in the script or if any were improvised. Lynch replied:

I had many, many, many of them written in the script, but Dennis always added more, because you get on a roll, and you can’t help yourself. And if an actor is locked into the groove so solidly, even if they say extra lines, or not exactly the way they’re written, they’re truthful. And for me Dennis was one of those guys. He always says that I could never say the word on set and that I would go to the script and say, ‘Dennis, when you say this word.’ [Laughs.] That’s not true exactly.

The filmmakers initially passed on Hopper because of his reputation, but the actor persisted and Lynch, thankfully, reconsidered. Without presuming to psychoanalyze Booth – ‘there’s enough material there for an entire conference,’ as the psychiatrist said of Basil Fawlty – we can see in his profanilect* motifs of incest, defecation, and violence, among other things. He swears inventively but also routinely, and constantly.

Enough fucking about. Let’s look at some examples. (Spoiler and trigger warnings ahoy.)

Blue Velvet: Dennis Hopper, standing next to Dean Stockwell in a red-painted apartment, says, "Let's hit the fucking road!"

Continue reading