Unparliamentary language: Australian edition


Legislators in governments based on the Westminster system enjoy parliamentary privilege, which means that, while in the House, they can speak their minds without the fear of being sued for slander. But to retain some modicum of decorum during debates, the Speaker of the House has the authority to rein in politicians who use language deemed unparliamentary, asking foul-mouthed lawmakers to withdraw their comments or face discipline.

This post is the first of a series that takes you on a tour of unparliamentary language in the Commonwealth. Some examples are insults thrown about by Australia’s “honourable members,” most of which are relatively tame by Strong Language standards, whereas others are a bit more meta, coming from legislative discussions about unseemly language itself. (The lack of quotes from certain states is more an indication of hard-to-search Hansards rather than a high standard of politeness.) Continue reading

Mapping the United Swears of America

Swearing varies a lot from place to place, even within the same country, in the same language. But how do we know who swears what, where, in the big picture? We turn to data – damn big data. With great computing power comes great cartography.

Jack Grieve, lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, has created a detailed set of maps of the US showing strong regional patterns of swearing preferences. The maps are based on an 8.9-billion-word corpus of geo-coded tweets collected by Diansheng Guo in 2013–14 and funded by Digging into Data. Here’s fuck:

Jack Grieve swear map of USA GI z-score FUCK Continue reading

Dirty wine

Wine brands, especially in the upstart, insecure New World, used to strain to sound serious and Frenchy-fancy. You had your Domains, your Clos, your Chateaus (“Pure Sonoma”!). Even five-dollar plonk could seem classy if it had a ridge or a mountain or a gate in its name. As James Thurber’s wine snob put it in the famous 1944 New Yorker cartoon, we may have been drinking naïve domestic Burgundy, but at least we could be amused by its presumption.

If Thurber were cartooning today, he’d change that last word to presumptuousness. Because inappropriate language—from vulgarity to suggestiveness to scatology—is the hottest trend in wine branding.

Here’s a survey of rude wine names, in alphabetical rude-word order. (And, since you asked, I know a bunch of rude beer brands, too. I’m sticking to wine this time.) Continue reading

The curse of coprolalia

Quick—what’s the most offensive thing you could say right now?

Whether it’s shit-gargling cunt, faggot cumtits, or something equally inappropriate, your brain’s basal ganglia helped you figure it out almost instantly. And if you didn’t blurt out what you were thinking, you can thank your prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in impulse control. For people with coprolalia, though, something in that neural circuitry has gone awry, and they can’t help letting loose with profane outbursts.

Coprolalia—from the Greek kopros meaning “feces” and lalein meaning “to talk”—is usually associated with Tourette syndrome [1], although it appears in only 10 to 20 percent of Tourette cases. It has also been documented in people with brain injuries from stroke, encephalitis, and cerebral malaria.

Continue reading

You pack-saddle child!

When it comes to bastards, it’s about location, location, location. Prepositionally speaking, a bastard is a child conceived out of wedlock, of course. But etymologically, a bastard is conceived,well, let’s just say it’s properly old, dirty, and horny–just like a good bastard should be.

The Oxford English Dictionary attests bastard as early as 1297 in The Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester: Of þulke blode Wyllam bastard com, or Of that very blood William (the) bastard comes (p. 295). The word comes directly from the Old French bastard, which may not have been the case if it weren’t for that selfsame Wyllam: William the Bastard. His Norman Conquest, as it came to be called, in 1066 not only christened him William the Conqueror but also throned the French language in England for the ensuing centuries–and forever changing the English language as a result. As this epithetic bastard may suggest, bastard was not always such a disreputable word; we’d have to wade into inheritance law and the Church for that shift.

The French bastard joins bast, “a pack-saddle,” and the suffix –ard. This bast appears in the colorful phrase, fils de bast, not “son of a bitch” but “son of a pack-saddle.” The OED notes that pack-saddles were “used as a bed by muleteers in the inns.” (I guess that’s why all the inns in Bethlehem had their “Do Not Disturb” signs up, no?) The sense here, as I’m sure you can gather, is that such a child was not conceived in the legitimacy of the marriage bed.

According to this etymology, the French bast is from the Late Latin bastum, a “pack-saddle,” which may be from a verb meaning “to carry” (Baumgartner and Ménard, 1996, Dictionnaire Étymologique).

Image by Matthew Goodwin via Wikimedia Commons. The Wikipedia caption notes the horse is carrying something called, fittingly enough, a “swag,” an Australian and New Zealand term for a “portable sleeping bag.”

The origin of bastard isn’t quite so tidy, however. Some, like Ernest Klein (Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 1971suggest that this bast is from a Germanic root, *bansti, for “barn.” I suppose we echo the lowly sense of this derivation when we remark, What were you, born in a born? Not that the barn is much of an upgrade from a pack-saddle, but anything is better than your father’s story about the back of his 1970 Dodge Charger before the Led Zeppelin tour.

This -ard isn’t so nice, either. A so-called pejorative suffix, it’s also featured in words like cowarddrunkard, and sluggard, though not so contemptibly in words like standard and mallard. Family names like Reynard (cf. Reinhardt) ultimately point us to Germanic origins in a root that also yields the English  hard.

In a variant form, –art, this -ard also appears other bastard synonyms, as Walter Skeat offers (An Etymological Dictionary of the English English, 2005): the French coitrart, a “son of a quilt,” or coite, and the Germanic bankart, “son of a bench,” or bank. The English bantling is similarly derived from this latter example. Ernest Weekley (An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, 1967) directs us to the Low German mantelkind, “mantle child,” and the Old Norse hrīsungr, with hrīs meaning “brushwood.” At least some terms have the courtesy to use a blanket.

What other bastard terms do you know of? Any hidden objects tucked away in a term for bastard in another language you speak?