Mudebroth! An ejaculation of St. Patrick

st-patrick
Image: jaqian/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For the day that’s in it, here’s a little something on a ‘verbal ejaculation’ attributed to St. Patrick – the fifth century Romano-British* missionary who was later elevated to the rank of patron saint of Ireland. It is to be found in several early medieval hagiographical texts concerning the saint’s activities, and is, allegedly, a corrupted version of a sweary expression he used. Intriguingly, it may actually represent a kernel of truth as the ‘ejaculation’  would appear to be an original Brittonic phrase that was subsequently passed down/corrupted through the medium of Old Irish (Brittonic would have been Patrick’s native language). If so, then there is something refreshingly subversive and endearing  in the idea that Old Irish tradition would be interested in, let alone preserve, an ancient earthy expression from the very mouth of its patron saint.

Patrick is said to have uttered the expression at people who were seriously pissing him off. Its earliest appearance is in a 7th century hagiographical text:

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Stiff competition

In her latest post for Strong Language, “Feelthy Brand Names,” Nancy Friedman shared some “naughty-sounding brand names,” as she nicely summed it up on her blog. No sooner had I enjoyed her post than I came across this gem on the road while stopped on my way home from work:

Morning_Wood
Where’s the t-shirt, bro? Oh wait, see below.

Naive or knowing? I couldn’t track down a lot of information about this curiously named company, so I can’t be sure. If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon called “morning wood,” let’s just you should move out of the way of pubescent schoolboys who, on their way to class in the morning, are carrying their textbooks in a manner so conveniently positioned at waist level. Here’s a scientific explanation from–I couldn’t resist–Upworthy. It won’t put you to sleep, even if that’s what’s behind nocturnal penile tumescence. (I wonder why the term “morning wood” proved so sticky?) Continue reading

Literary expletive avoidance

Show, don’t tell goes the writer’s refrain. It can apply to cursing, too, but doesn’t tend to in contemporary prose. Swearwords pepper modern novels, not least in genres like detective fiction where they lend colour and authenticity to hard-boiled dialogue. But there are times when a writer can say more by not saying them.

deirdre madden - molly fox's birthday - faber & faber book coverTake Deirdre Madden’s novel Molly Fox’s Birthday. (Or better yet, read it.) Madden has a gift for imaginative description but knows when to apply the subtler force of discretion. Here the narrator, a playwright, is chatting by phone to her friend Molly Fox, a stage actor with what we have learned is a remarkable voice, ‘clear and sweet’ and at times ‘infused with a slight ache, a breaking quality that makes it uniquely beautiful’.

Molly has just received birthday wishes from a mutual friend:

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A week of Strong Language

It’s been a damn good first week for Strong Language. It all came together very quickly, and we’re still adjusting the details, but we’ve a great team of writers posting already or planning to post (see the growing list of contributors at the foot of the page), and a feast of fucks and sweary shit coming your way. Whether you’ve been reading from the start or just joined us, thank you, and welcome.

Word is getting around. Ben Zimmer’s generous introduction at Language Log led to notices at the Washington Post, Nerdcore (Linguistics-Blog of Fuckshit is our new nickname), and other blogs and forums. Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things newsletter featured James Harbeck’s inaugural post on cussword phonology, while the Paris Review blog quoted my post on swearing in John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Other blogs sharing the news include Copyediting.com, Fritinancy, so long as it’s words, Iva Cheung’s blog, the polemical brain, Bifurcated Rivets, and my own Sentence first. Readers are coming in from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LiveJournal, Wiktionary, Plurk (surely a minced oath waiting to happen), and elsewhere. We’re grateful to everyone who visits or shares the blog.

If you’re catching up, you can see all ten of our posts so far in the “Latest” box in the right-hand sidebar, or by scrolling down on the main page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @stronglang, where we’ve been chatting about swearwords, sharing links, having slightly foul-mouthed fun, and just generally settling the fuck in. Finally, here’s a peek at our stats for the first six days:

Strong Language visitor stats days 1-6

That escalated bloody quickly.