Profanity in American Sign Language

Sign languages are as expressive and systematic as spoken languages, and that includes taboo words. As Benjamin Bergen writes in What the F, ‘Signers use rules of grammar, some of them specific to profanity, just like speakers of spoken languages.’ There’s also great variation in how a given idea may be conveyed – not just between sign languages or their dialects but within them.

If Cory O’Brien’s terrific post on the middle finger in American Sign Language made you want to increase your rude repertoire in ASL, look no further. The video below features a host of signers demonstrating some favourite insults and profanities. It also shows how much fun swearing can be.

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Sweary links #22

Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the media’s coverage of the Donald Trump pussy-grab tape: “The word Trump used may not be the most obscene term for a woman’s genital area. But it’s the one that focuses on it in a purely sexual way.” (Also see our own posts on the subject: A Banner Day for Profanity, by Ben Zimmer; Pussy on a Hot Trump Mic, by Copy Curmudgeon; and Watershed Moments: Donald Trump, Rakeyia Scott, and the Times, by Blake Eskin.)

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Speaking of Trumpian vulgarities, Language Log ponders the candidate’s use of “like a bitch.”

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Arnold Zwicky tracks down the history of jackhole: coined by two Los Angeles radio personalities to circumvent Federal Communications Commission language proscriptions.

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(Hat tip: @scarequotes)

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A banner day for profanity

It’s safe to say that October 7, 2016 will go down in history as a watershed moment in public profanity. On this day, a recording emerged of the Republican nominee for president saying utterly reprehensible things about women, featuring no fewer than four taboo words: pussy, fuck, bitch, and tits. (His interlocutor threw in one more: shit.) And major news outlets had to decide whether they should transcribe the quotes verbatim, in some cases setting new precedents in how they handle such vocabulary.

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Unparliamentary language—Canadian edition

Picture of the Canadian House of Commons

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.

Because Canadians will soon head to the polls to elect their forty-second Parliament, I figured now was a good time to look through Canada’s Hansard for some choice quotes from past parliamentarians. As with the Australian edition of our unparliamentary language feature, you’ll likely find the offending words or phrases tame by Strong Language standards. I’ve also included some quotes where the honourable members feel out the boundaries of what’s considered unparliamentary. Continue reading