This is a guest post by Alon Lischinsky, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Discourse at Oxford Brookes University, who — after working many years on materials like management books and corporate annual reports — is now studying the language of porn using corpus linguistics. He tweets at @alischinsky.
The British police drama Broadchurch can be gritty, uncompromising and bleak, but rarely sweary. Despite the grim events that rock the small coastal town, whole episodes pass without any strong language other than the occasional expletive shit or bloody hell. By the time that Cath Atwood gets coarse in S03E05, it’s because her husband and best friend’s affair has truly fucked her up:
Possessive pronouns – my, your, his, her, our, their – modify nouns. Pretty much any nouns. The English possessive shouldn’t even really be called “possessive,” since it also describes so many more and other things than possession. The thing “possessed” can be an individual item: My dick and your cunt should really get acquainted. It can be a mass object: Don’t waste my time or touch my shit. It can be an act: How was your run today? As good as my performance last night?
Obviously some things are more likely to be “possessed” than others: his book is going to show up far more often than her neutrino. But pretty much any noun, including any sweary noun, can be possessed.
A fuck almost never is possessed. Continue reading
Last year, in my post on the line from The Martian, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this,” I took a look at the more general pattern of “VERB the TABOO TERM out of (something).” I noted the difficulty of using that construction with an intransitive verb that takes a prepositional phrase:
Things get a little tricky when you want to intensify the act of listening to or looking at something, as noted recently on Twitter by Stacy Dickerman. An intransitive verb that requires a preposition complicates the construction — can you “listen to the fuck out of” something? For more on this, see Laura Bailey’s “Another Sweary Blog Post” from last year. See also Florent Perek’s “Using distributional semantics to study syntactic productivity in diachrony: A case study” (forthcoming in Linguistics), which discusses an example mined from the Corpus of Contemporary American English: “I’ve been listening the hell out of your tape.” (Yes, the problematic to is simply deleted, treating listen as a transitive verb.)
I just came across another example along the lines of “I’ve been listening the hell out of your tape,” from the British standup comedian Stewart Lee.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about why you can’t say *abso-jesus-lutely, pointing out that you can only infix certain kinds of swears.
In response, Ed Cormany asked on Twitter whether I thought swears were in the same category as interjections. I said no, but this got me started on interjection infixation, which turns out to be abso-hallelujah-lutely interesting.
Here’s a puzzle: why can’t you say “abso-jesus-lutely”? (Recently brought to my attention by Leland Paul Kusmer.)
Let’s back up for a sec. The classic case of expletive infixation involves “fucking” or “bloody” as in abso-fucking-lutely, abso-bloody-lutely. And one syllable swears can’t infix: there’s no abso-fuck-lutely or abso-shit-lutely. But “Jesus” is two syllables, people swear with it, and it even has the same stress as the other two. Why doesn’t it sound right as an infix?