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.
I recently read Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar, translated into English from the original Swedish. It was a perfectly Scandinavian murder mystery, and for the majority of the book I did not notice it was a work in translation. There was one thing that kept tripping me up as I read:
Donald the Trump has yet again opened his cakehole and gifted us – and especially lexicographers – with another citable instance of vulgarity. Naturally, his ass-mouth made headlines around the world when he said “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” And naturally, this shit has to be reported on in other languages. So what do you do when you’re writing in another language and trying to translate shithole countries effectively? Continue reading
The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s latest anus ex machina, is a real gift to the world of politics-as-entertainment. If you wrote him into a novel, the readers would say, “The fuck d’you think you are, Thomas fucking Pynchon?” If into a play, “David fucking Mamet?” But no, fuck that, this slick-headed wisemouth bounded right out of the commedia dell’arte, obviously: Scaramuccia (called Scaramouche in French), whose name literally means ‘little skirmisher’, is a grimacing rapscallion given to braggadocio and pusillanimity. And just as the eternal Scaramouche has carried vulgar behaviour through the ages and between countries, the present Mooch has done a service to international studies of vulgarity, because now we get to see how newspapers in other countries translate fucking paranoid schizophrenic, cock-block, and suck my own cock.
Seriously, when the fuck else have you been able to use simple searches of international newspapers – just type Scaramucci Bannon in the box – to learn how to talk like a New York fuckface in other languages? Continue reading
Language, linguists will tell you, doesn’t exist in a hermetically sealed vacuum: it has speakers, and those speakers exist within a particular time, place, and context. That means that the language is also affected by time, place, and context. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a quick-and-dirty overview of common Finnish swear words.
Finland is, for those who don’t know, the Nordic country bordered by Sweden on the west and Russia on the east. It is, as a country, a bit of a cipher: in spite of spending most of its medieval and modern history as either a duchy of Sweden or Russia, it’s neither Scandinavian nor Slavic, but its own little island of Finno-Ugricness. Finns on the whole are reserved folks, yet their best-known export is Lordi and they proudly support what might be the only Men’s Shouting Chorus in the world. They’re also people of very, very few words, no doubt because they must regularly rassle with the likes of peruspalveluliikelaitoskuntayhtymä (which refers to a regional community health provider). In short, they are a people of contradictions, and their swearing is no different.