“History of Swear Words” on Netflix

We’re pleased AF to let you know that “History of Swear Words,” will launch on Netflix January 5, 2021. The series—six 20-minute episodes—will consider the etymologies, false etymologies, and usage of six classic swears:  fuck, shit, dick, bitch, pussy, and damn.

We’re especially pleased that one of our Strong Language co-fuckers, lexicographer Kory Stamper, was one of the consultants for the show. The other experts include cognitive scientist and author of What the F Benjamin Bergen; linguist Anne Charity Hudley; professor of feminist studies Mireille Miller-Young; film critic Elvis Mitchell; and author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing Melissa Mohr.

Nicolas Cage will host.

More details here. And let’s hope for a second season so we can delve into assholecuntcocksucker, and other sweary faves.

Martha Gellhorn and all-American-lady-swearing

Sentimentally, we like to think that ladies of an earlier time — mostly our grandmothers and great-grandmothers — lived virtuous lives, without swearing. When Joseph Mitchell profiled A. S. Colborne, who spent much of his life trying to exterminate profanity, for The New Yorker in 1941, he captured the paradoxical view of women’s swearing, partly as a function of class, at that time. When Mitchell visited one day, Colborne explained, “I’m sort of sleepy … Sat up late last night studying over bar and grill profanity. Why, the women are worse than the men. And you can’t talk to them! Why, they’ll spit in your eye!” But then, he remembered that when he first started admonishing swearers on the street, he would insist, “‘Your dear old mother never taught you to talk like that. Think it over!” But maybe some mothers did, and some classy women of the mid-twentieth century apparently swore a lot, whatever our mythology.

I was reminded of this while reading Janet Somerville’s new selection of Martha Gellhorn’s letters, Yours, for probably always (Firefly Books, 2019) and then Caroline Morehead’s Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life (Henry Holt and Company, 2003). Gellhorn is a remarkable writer, perhaps most famous for her war reporting. The final edition of The Face of War (1988), collects dispatches from the Spanish Civil War, the wars in Finland and China, Word War II, wars in Java and Vietnam, the Six Day War, and Central American wars. She wrote fiction, too, perhaps most importantly The Trouble I’ve Seen (1936), four stories about the Great Depression. To my mind, Gellhorn is one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.

Continue reading

Sweary holiday gifts

Yes, 2020 has been a shitshow, but at Strong Language we still observe the niceties—or the naughtyties—of ritual and tradition. Here are gifts that evoke the spirit of the season and the whole fucking year.

*

Continue reading

Sweary masks

The current occupant of the White House excepted, just about everyone these days acknowledges that protective masks—or “face masks,” as they’re sometimes called, as though we might confuse them with elbow masks—are here to stay for as long as COVID-19 is uncontained, or maybe forever. (In California, where I live, they’re required attire outside the home when physical distancing isn’t possible.)

Rather than see masks as an annoyance, why not regard them as an opportunity for self-expression? Fortunately, many crafty merchants appear to know exactly the sort of self-expression we Strong Languagers prefer.

*

Continue reading

Gadzooks! Taboo words? Minced oaths? Zounds!

I’m reposting this from my own blog, Sesquiotica. Lest you marvel at the absence of actual swearwords, know that my mother reads it.

Gadzooks! Zounds!

Be careful with those words. They’re ancient holy relics. They’re soaked with a divine spirit. They’re broken bits of oaths, pieces of sacred words of eternal commitment, now used as playthings. I’ll show you… but not quite yet.

We don’t utter oaths as exclamations and imprecations and expressions of emotional intensity much anymore. Most of us are more likely to call on sex and other bodily functions to express dismay at the arc of a crystal glass to a tile floor or a steel hammer to the wrong kind of nail. In general, we feel one of two ways about names for the divine: a few of us consider them so inviolable and sacred that we would never use them to express shock, anger, or other emotions of the edge; the remainder of us seldom consider them of enough account to be satisfactory for the purpose. But there were times when it was otherwise. Continue reading