This is a guest post by Dr Philip Seargeant, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the Open University. Philip has published extensively on linguistics in social media and politics, and helped create the acclaimed video series The History of English in Ten Minutes. He was last seen on Strong Language with an article on emoji swearing. He tweets at @philipseargeant.
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Blowjobs have played an occasional but important part in political history. The most notable recent example, of course, involved Bill Clinton. It was his equivocation over the nature of his relations with Monica Lewinsky that led to him being impeached on perjury charges. A century before Clinton, another president had an even more decisive oral-sex-related experience. Félix Faure, President of the French Republic between 1895 and 1899, was unlucky enough to die in office from a cerebral haemorrhage which he supposedly suffered while being fellated by his mistress.
The latest entry in the annals of political crises involving blowjobs doesn’t concern the act itself, however, but rather the word. Specifically, it concerns the use of the word as a political insult. And even more specifically, an insult expressed by means of car vanity plates.
English-usage authority Bryan A. Garner shook Language Twitter by suggesting that only philistines pronounced pubes as a single syllable.
More than a few of us responded with tweets of bewilderment and skepticism, likely confusing everyone around us as we muttered “PYOO-beez. PYOOBZ. PYOO-beez??” at our screens. Continue reading
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.)
Soon we may have all sorts of COCK-formative trademarks engorging the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database because the bar on registering scandalous trademarks is dying a slow death. But the current COCK-related trademark controversy is more complicated and, frankly, less fun than the pending application for COCK SUCKER for candy in the shape of a rooster.
Faleena Hopkins has written several self-published romance novels, among them the Cocker Brothers of Atlanta series, also called the Cocky series. These brothers, though they have cockiness and, apparently, horniness in common, have chosen diverse paths in life. Titles in the series thus include Cocky Marine, Cocky Cowboy, Cocky Genius and Cocky Senator.
After publishing a number of books in the series, Hopkins went on to obtain two federal trademark registrations for COCKY. She owns one for COCKY in no particular font for “a series of books in the field of romance” and “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance,” issued April 17, 2018. And another stylized mark for the same goods, issued May 1, 2018:
Armed with her registration, Hopkins appears to have used the Amazon Brand Registry to have Amazon take down several novels with “Cocky” in the title. (The ABR requires a trademark registration.) She has also sent out several cease and desist letters to individual authors with “Cocky” titles.
This has pissed the publishing community off royally. For the full shitstorm, check out #cockygate on Twitter. Just brace yourself for the vitriol. The Romance Writers of America trade association is consulting with legal counsel to figure out how to stop Hopkins, and a Moveon.org petition urging the USPTO to cancel Hopkins’ trademark registrations has almost 27,000 signatures as of this writing. Continue reading
Soon after Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published in 1755, so the story goes, he was approached by a pair of prudish readers who commended him for omitting ‘improper’ words. Johnson, according to one account, replied to the women: ‘What! my dears! then you have been looking for them?’
Today you can find improper words in any good dictionary – but only the main set. Fuck is there, but not fuckish, fuckfaced, fuck-nutty, fuck my old boots!, or fuck the dog and sell the pups. You’ll see shit in the usual sources, but good luck finding shit-breath, shit factory, shit-squirting, shit out, or shit on the dining room table.* Regular dictionaries just don’t cover the remarkable range of taboo vocabulary, nor should they.
For this we turn to specialist slang dictionaries. These do not shy from obscenity but embrace it in all its mutable monstrousness (I say this as someone who loves monsters, and mutants). And the best slang dictionary in existence – it defines, expertly, all the phrases above and thousands like them – is Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS). Last year it went online. If that’s news to you, prepare for a treat.