The expressions swear like a trooper and swear like a sailor are so common as to be cliché. But why do we swear ‘like a trooper’ or ‘like a sailor’? And what else do we swear like, idiomatically, in English and other languages?
Troopers and sailors
Swearing has long been identified with the military, source of so much slang, ribald chants, tribal insults, and other forms of strong language. Profanity would come into its own in war, aiding both bonding and catharsis: ‘an easement to the much besieged spirit’, as Ashley Montagu put it.
So routine was swearing in WWI that to omit it carried real force. In his 1930 book Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914–1918, John Brophy writes, ‘If a sergeant said, “Get your ––––ing rifles!” it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said “Get your rifles!” there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger.’
We can assume that fucking is the censored word. The spread of fuck through war is described in Ruth Wajnryb’s Expletive Deleted (2005):
Thank you, Dana Bash, for the most concise and quotable characterization of the first Trump-Biden debate.
And, by the way, she did not – as some news sources are putting it – say “a shit show.” There’s an important difference. The Star Wars Holiday Special was a shit show: it was a TV show and it was shit (Mark Hamill confirms). The debate was a shitshow. A clusterfuck. A shambolic bumbleplex of wanktastic dimensions. As horrifying as if you let a vulgar beshitten amphetaminated overgrown toddler scream at an elder statesman and called it a “debate.” Which, actually, yeah. Levels worse than a shit show (Mark Hamill also confirms). If you want to know more about the origins et cetera of shitshow, Nancy Friedman laid down the good shit a few years ago here in “What a shitshow!”
But that leads us all to an important question, a question that it took a highly respected bestselling writer – and one of the absolutely nicest people on Twitter – to ask:
Replies poured in. Which makes me happy, not just because I love languages and I love the earthy colloquial words in them best, but because, unlike Trump’s shithole or Scaramucci’s fucking paranoid schizophrenic, cock-block, and suck my own cock, Bash’s shitshow didn’t get nearly as much notice in the international press. Believe me, I looked. In general, it seems, the international press didn’t give a shit and didn’t show up for this debate. (Good call.) So I rely on Celeste Ng’s Twitter respondents to inform us, with a bit of my own occasional additional looking up to check some details.
When Nancy Friedman, who writes about sweary brand names for Strong Language, discovered a California audio-equipment company called Schiit and a Norwegian travel-bag company called Douchebags, she couldn’t keep the story to herself. She emailed trademark lawyer Anne Gilson LaLonde, who’s written for Strong Language about “scandalous” and “offensive” marks, and asked: WTF? What follows is their online conversation, condensed and edited for clarity. Style note: We’re following the convention in trademark law to use all capital letters for trademarks. When referring to the business itself, we capitalize only the first letter of the name.
With the passing of Scott Walker, who found pop-music fame as a member of the Walker Brothers before setting out on an inimitable solo career, the singer’s best-known work has been making the rounds online. One particularly memorable song from Walker was his first solo single, “Jackie,” released in December 1967. “Jackie” was an English-language rendering of Jacques Brel’s “La chanson de Jacky,” translated from French by Mort Shuman (a Brill Building songwriter who would go on to co-create the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris). Both the French and English lyrics were quite racy for the time. The English chorus, as unforgettably delivered by Walker, goes:
If I could be for only an hour If I could be for an hour every day If I could be for just one little hour A-cute-cute in a stupid-ass way
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.