Great moments in swearing: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet is a film with an enduring power to unsettle viewers. Its unique brand of ‘darkness in colour’ (to borrow Pauline Kael’s phrase) features also at the level of language, with the cornball goofing of its young sweethearts set against the malevolent and compulsive profanity of Frank Booth, played by Dennis Hopper.

For his book Lynch on Lynch, Chris Rodley asked David Lynch if all of Frank’s fucks were in the script or if any were improvised. Lynch replied:

I had many, many, many of them written in the script, but Dennis always added more, because you get on a roll, and you can’t help yourself. And if an actor is locked into the groove so solidly, even if they say extra lines, or not exactly the way they’re written, they’re truthful. And for me Dennis was one of those guys. He always says that I could never say the word on set and that I would go to the script and say, ‘Dennis, when you say this word.’ [Laughs.] That’s not true exactly.

The filmmakers initially passed on Hopper because of his reputation, but the actor persisted and Lynch, thankfully, reconsidered. Without presuming to psychoanalyze Booth – ‘there’s enough material there for an entire conference,’ as the psychiatrist said of Basil Fawlty – we can see in his profanilect* motifs of incest, defecation, and violence, among other things. He swears inventively but also routinely, and constantly.

Enough fucking about. Let’s look at some examples. (Spoiler and trigger warnings ahoy.)

Blue Velvet: Dennis Hopper, standing next to Dean Stockwell in a red-painted apartment, says, "Let's hit the fucking road!"

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Global autofellation with the Mooch

The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s latest anus ex machina, is a real gift to the world of politics-as-entertainment. If you wrote him into a novel, the readers would say, “The fuck d’you think you are, Thomas fucking Pynchon?” If into a play, “David fucking Mamet?” But no, fuck that, this slick-headed wisemouth bounded right out of the commedia dell’arte, obviously: Scaramuccia (called Scaramouche in French), whose  name literally means ‘little skirmisher’, is a grimacing rapscallion given to braggadocio and pusillanimity. And just as the eternal Scaramouche has carried vulgar behaviour through the ages and between countries, the present Mooch has done a service to international studies of vulgarity, because now we get to see how newspapers in other countries translate fucking paranoid schizophreniccock-block, and suck my own cock.

Seriously, when the fuck else have you been able to use simple searches of international newspapers – just type Scaramucci Bannon in the box – to learn how to talk like a New York fuckface in other languages? Continue reading

*Abso-hallelujah-lutely: Infixes can’t be interjections (but what are they?)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about why you can’t say *abso-jesus-lutely, pointing out that you can only infix certain kinds of swears.

In response, Ed Cormany asked on Twitter whether I thought swears were in the same category as interjections. I said no, but this got me started on interjection infixation, which turns out to be abso-hallelujah-lutely interesting.

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Abso-jesus-lutely not: Why can you infix “fucking” and “bloody” but not other swears?

Here’s a puzzle: why can’t you say “abso-jesus-lutely”? (Recently brought to my attention by Leland Paul Kusmer.)

Let’s back up for a sec. The classic case of expletive infixation involves “fucking” or “bloody” as in abso-fucking-lutely, abso-bloody-lutely. And one syllable swears can’t infix: there’s no abso-fuck-lutely or abso-shit-lutely. But “Jesus” is two syllables, people swear with it, and it even has the same stress as the other two. Why doesn’t it sound right as an infix?

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Emphatic affirmatives

English has equipped us with a full spectrum of ways to agree—the noncommittal sure, the tepid OK, the formal yes. But some situations demand a more enthusiastic response than a simple yes, and coming to our aid are our trusty sweary sidekicks, which help us intensify yeah into hell yeah and absolutely into absofuckinglutely. They’ve also made their way into a few (relatively) fixed expressions that we use to convey emphatic assent:

Damn straight

(Also damned straight, goddamn straight, or goddamned straight)

Straight meaning “honest” or “true” dates from the 1530s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the earliest citation of damn straight comes from Roger D. Abraham’s 1964 Deep Down in the Jungle: Black American Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia:

“God damn straight, I’ll be there.”

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