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.
In the 1950s the aerospace corporation Lockheed developed a single-seat, high-altitude plane under great secrecy, built by a small team of engineers in the company’s Skunk Works facility. The craft was not designated B or F, being neither bomber nor fighter: this was a spy plane. But an R for reconnaissance would not be discreet, so it was given a low-key U, for utility, and a 2 for its place in the development chain.
That’s the official story behind the U-2’s name, and there’s no real reason to doubt it. But there’s an apocryphal – and sweary – alternative, described by Phil Patton in his book Travels in Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51 (Orion, 1997). Patton’s anecdote features top test pilot Tony LeVier and pioneering aircraft designer Clarence Johnson, who ran Skunk Works and was nicknamed Kelly for his pugnacious streak.
On the U-2’s maiden trip in 1955, LeVier was in control and Johnson flew behind in support. It was a tough aircraft to fly, nicknamed the Dragon Lady for good reason, apparently:
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.
Update: You can read Ben Zimmer’s appreciation of the Very Bad Words podcast on Slate.
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.”
We’ve looked at swearing in films before, in the obvious sense where it occurs on the audio track. But sometimes films offer visual swears, a few examples of which are presented below. Visual swears may be remarked on or alluded to in the dialogue, or they may not; they may be props, used for colour and characterisation, or they may serve comedic aims, or some combination of the above.
Here’s one that contributes to both contextual humour and characterisation: Rooney Mara’s delightful FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK T-shirt in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo(2011) (click images to enlarge):