What’s a nice interjection like nuts! doing in a place like Strong Language, home of brazen epithets and unexpurgated swears? Nuts: such a mild word, so fusty and old-fashioned, so suitable for children’s tender ears.
Well, it wasn’t always that way. For several decades in the middle of the 20th century, nuts and its facetious cousin nerts were deemed so inappropriate that they were forbidden—along with, but not limited to, whore, SOB, damn, hell, fanny, and slut—in the scripts of Hollywood movies. (Needless to say, fuck and shit were too scandalous to merit mention.) It took a famous World War II battle, and the gradual loosening of the censorious rules known as the Motion Picture Production Code, to bring nuts, nerts, and nuts to you into semi-respectability and finally to quaintness.
Pull up a chair, my little dears, and I’m going to tell you a sad tale of fallen words, a story about how little dears – or should I say words for ‘little’ and for ‘dear’ – started out lovely and beloved and ended up scorned and scornful. Continue reading →
Wes Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums features a short exchange that’s interesting for its taboo-linguistic detail. It takes place between Royal himself, played by Gene Hackman, and Henry, played by Danny Glover.
If you haven’t seen the film, but you might sometime (do, dammit), don’t worry about spoilers – the images below don’t give much away. And you don’t need to know the characters’ backstory, so let’s jump right in:
I’m lucky enough to live in a multicultural city where I can walk a block to a restaurant advertising “poke sushi burrito,” so a lot of food-based ethnic slurs seem almost quaint to me—though that’s not to diminish the hurt they’ve caused. I thought I’d dig into the origin of some of these slurs and look at how their power has shifted.
By food-based slurs, I’m not referring to words like banana, used to describe people of Asian descent in Western countries who are “yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” I’m focusing on expressions attacking foods that people choose to include in their diets.
Food is an integral part of culture, yet it seems to be one of the easiest, most accessible ways to cross cultural boundaries. Othering cultures based on what they will and won’t eat certainly still goes on, as we see from perennial jabs at Asian cultures as dog eaters and White nationalists’ bizarre obsession with milk, but with our access to a greater variety of ingredients than ever before, insulting someone based on what they use to nourish themselves comes off as especially lazy. It’s the ill intent and the othering that causes the harm, but food-based slurs feel particularly flaccid because their primary effect is to shine a light on the unworldliness of the speaker.
What food-based ethnic slurs do you have in your culture? Share them in the comments! Continue reading →
My last collection of sweary songs began with some vintage a cappella filth about cocksuckers. For balance, I’ll start this one with The Fourskins’ winning ditty ‘Her Vagina’ (most audio that follows is VNSFW):
Want ruder? Harry Roy and His Orchestra sang about ‘My Girl’s Pussy’ almost a century ago. Warning: this one has serious earworm potential: