With the calendar turning on another year (and another decade), it’s time once again for the annual Strong Language honors for excellence in swearing. For the past half-decade, Strong Language has been on the scene, tracking all the highlights in low language. (Check out our previous roundups from 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.) As always, the awards are named in honor of the patron saint of Strong Language, Malcolm Tucker, the endlessly quotable antihero played by Peter Capaldi in the BBC political satire The Thick of It and the film followup In the Loop.
Lately, Capaldi has reunited with Armando Iannucci, the creator of The Thick of It (as well as the equally sweary Veep) in the new film The Personal History of David Copperfield. Even though a different Dickensian adaptation, BBC One’s A Christmas Carol, managed to slip in some swearing, Capaldi’s Mr. Micawber is obscenity-free, so we’ll have to keep the spirit of Malcolm Tucker alive ourselves. As Malcolm would say, come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off.
It is once again my solemn duty to present the annual Strong Language honors for excellence in swearing, named for our patron saint Malcolm Tucker, Peter Capaldi’s paragon of sweariness as seen on BBC’s The Thick of It, the cinematic offshoot In the Loop, and countless YouTube montages ever since.
This is the fourth time the Tucker Awards have been bestowed on worthy recipients — feel free to take a stroll back in time and peruse the winners of 2015, 2016, and 2017. But as the calendar turns on 2018, let’s get down to fucking business.
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.)
Whoo-ee, 2018 started off with a fucking bang, didn’t it? Right on the heels of our third annual Tucker Awards for Excellence in Swearing drop the juicy profanities in Michael Wolff’s controversial Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
As excerpts and early reviews ahead of its January 9th release are proving, Wolff’s account—apparently based on over 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle, and other staff conducted over 18 months, much as embedded in the West Wing—is blistering. Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, of all people, called the Trump Tower meeting with Russians “treasonous,” according to Wolff.
Wolff’s account is also a very sweary one. As Ben Zimmer, who authors our reliably politics-packed Tucker Awards, observed on Twitter:
Zimmer’s right, so let’s highlight some choice examples we’ve seen so far. Bannon clearly positions himself as a Tucker favorite, if Wolff’s reports are confirmed.
It’s become our annual tradition here on Strong Language to hand out awards for the best in swearing over the past year. (See the honors for 2015 here and 2016 here.) The Tucker Awards are named after the patron saint of Strong Language, Malcolm Tucker, the super-sweary political fixer from the BBC’s The Thick of It (and the film spinoff In the Loop), as portrayed by Peter Capaldi.