When Stephen Sondheim was writing the lyrics for “Gee, Officer Krupke,” to be sung in the 1957 musical West Side Story, he was hoping to be the first person to use a serious four-letter obscenity in a Broadway show: “Gee, Officer Krupke—Fuck you!” This did not come to pass. Columbia records balked because obscenity laws would prohibit the recording from being shipped over state lines. In the end, the line was changed to “Krup you!”— Sondheim has since maintained that it may be the best lyric line in the show. Is there any doubt what the lyric would be if it were written today? In the fifty-plus years since West Side Story, the expletive is not only fully accepted in the theater, but roundly applauded. Continue reading
You may remember Jack Grieve’s swear maps of the USA. Now he has a nifty new web app called Word Mapper that lets anyone with an internet connection make use of the raw data behind those maps.
Being a mature grown-up, I put on my @stronglang hat and went searching for swears and euphemisms. What emerged were some intriguing – and visually very appealing – patterns of rude word use in contemporary discourse:
About 60 maps follow, so fair warning: It’s an image-heavy post.
My father-in-law was an elegant man who spoke five languages—six if you count bad language. The latter was seldom spoken in public, but in private among family and friends he could light up the sky with his procession of incandescent oaths. When he caught himself, which was not often, he would then apologize claiming that it was a nasty habit he picked up in the army. Yes, “war is hell,” as the saying goes, and a great deal more. My father-in-law was not alone in this predicament. Most of the veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War with whom I have spoken have, like my father-in-law, blamed the military lifestyle and, in particular, life during wartime, as the source for their unbridled profanity. Considering the unfamiliar, trying, and often life-threatening circumstances, who can blame them? It seems to make sense, then, to dive back into in those trenches.
Most of us who have traveled abroad have usually toted along some sort of guidebook, be it Michelin’s Guide France, Baedeker’s Germany, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They generally include a slew of phrases the authors assume you will find essential: “Do you speak English?” “Have you any ready-made clothes?” “Is the bed well-aired?’ “What time is the next steamer?” Rarely, if ever, do you see supremely useful phrases. “Excuse me. Is this the way to Jim Morrison’s tomb?” And you will never find what you eventually need more than anything else, a good, hearty swear: “This is bullshit!”
Having spent some time in France and Argentina, I managed to pick up a few choice morsels omitted from the venerable guides. Since we are packing lightly for our journey, here are a few words that might come in handy when all else fails.
I stumbled upon this 1884 title in my research for another post and figured I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it here. I don’t know much about the book’s author, Julian Sharman, other than that he’d also edited a collection of poetry by Mary Queen of Scots and a collection of John Heywood’s proverbs. And I’ll admit I’m not so much reviewing this thoroughly British book as I am admiring it as a curious artifact of its time.
Almost half a century into Queen Victoria’s reign, 1884 stands out as the year:
(none of which provide any relevant context for the book, unfortunately, but surely you didn’t expect me to learn about the so-called Home Office Baby and not pass the information along). Those Victorians sure knew how to party. Continue reading