Sweary links #24

We’re pleased AF to welcome Very Bad Words, a new podcast from radio producer Matt Fidler about “our complex relationship with swearing and forbidden language,” to the sweary community. A new episode, “WTF, FCC?”, explores what’s permitted and what’s verboten on the airwaves. You can follow Very Bad Words on Twitter, too.

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No sweatsuit or athleisure wear for the professional mixed martial artist and boxer Conor McGregor, no siree. At a press conference hyping his August 26 bout with Floyd Mayweather, McGregor wore a custom suit whose pinstripes were composed of the repeated phrase “FUCK YOU.” According to Esquire, the suit was made for McGregor by David August, an American brand of “timeless made-to-measure clothing for the modern man.” The company’s CEO, David Heil, told Esquire: “I felt weaving this specific phrase into the cloth was the perfect way to bring together the bespoke details of a custom suit and Conor’s personality.”

If bespoke suiting doesn’t befit your budget, you could opt instead for a McGregor-inspired T-shirt or throw pillow, both from Redbubble.

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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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Guest post: Little Samoan potty mouths

Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, by Benjamin K. Bergen. Copyright © 2016. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, a division of PBG Publishing, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. 

In the late 1970s, University of California, Los Angeles, anthropologist Elinor Ochs recorded arguably the most surprising discovery ever made about how children acquire their first words, and she did it in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Ochs was conducting research in Samoa, looking at how people there interact and use language. She spent time with locals, observing their daily routines and asking about their experiences. One question she asked mothers was what their child’s first word was. She doubtless expected something along the lines of patterns we’re familiar with from English and many other languages: names of (human or animal) members of the household or other nouns for common objects, like ball or bottle (or, as a British survey found, beer). She probably also expected a lot of variability. While over half of English-speaking kids do produce a name for a caregiver first, the distribution has a long tail.

But when Ochs asked the mothers in the families she was working with about their children’s first words, she got a completely unexpected response. Every single one of them reported the very same word. It did happen to be a noun, but it was a special one, used in a very specific way. It was the word tae, which, as suggested earlier, doesn’t mean “mommy” or “daddy.” It means “shit.” More precisely, it’s an abbreviation of the Samoan expression ‘ai tae, which means “Eat shit.”

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