Collocations of ‘cock’: What corpus linguistics tells us about porn writing

This is a guest post by Orin Hargraves, an independent lexicographer, language researcher, and past president of the Dictionary Society of North America. Orin is the author of several language reference books, including It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Clichés (Oxford) and Slang Rules!: A Practical Guide for English Learners (Merriam-Webster).

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A few years ago I wrote about how collocations in fiction skew the statistics of collocations in a corpus because of their extremely frequent use; Ben Zimmer expanded on the idea in a later New York Times piece. In summary, the point is that a number of collocations would not be statistically significant were it not for their appearance in fiction. This is because writers of fiction—particularly writers of the amateur, unedited fiction that appears online—tend to reuse the same tropes and phrases so much that these effectively become clichés, formulaic ways of expressing the same (rather tired) ideas and events.

All of that came to light when I was working with the Oxford English Corpus, a well balanced and carefully curated corpus that, at the time, had about two billion words of English. These days I’m working with the enTenTen13 corpus, a web-crawled corpus of nearly 20 billion words, owned and made available by Sketch Engine. Sketch Engine’s web-crawler roves the Internet indiscriminately, pulling text from wherever it can be found. Like some grandmother aghast in Greenville, the web-crawler regularly comes upon sites with pornographic content. The difference between the grandmother and the web-crawler is that while she may avert her gaze in shock and dismay, the web-crawler grabs the text, parses and tags it, and adds it to the corpus. The result is that enTenTen13 houses a steaming, pulsating trove of pornographic writing.

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Who fucks who, and why should we care?

This is a guest post by Alon Lischinsky, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Discourse at Oxford Brookes University, who — after working many years on materials like management books and corporate annual reports — is now studying the language of porn using corpus linguistics. He tweets at @alischinsky.

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The British police drama Broadchurch can be gritty, uncompromising and bleak, but rarely sweary. Despite the grim events that rock the small coastal town, whole episodes pass without any strong language other than the occasional expletive shit or bloody hell. By the time that Cath Atwood gets coarse in S03E05, it’s because her husband and best friend’s affair has truly fucked her up:

Screenshot from Broadchurch, with Cath confiding: "She shagged my husband. Or he shagged... They shagged each other."

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What the “pokéfuck” is going on?

PokéBalls aren’t what they sound like – fortunately. They are capsules used to catch Pokémon, those little creatures swarming our smartphones, our streets, our very lives thanks to Nintendo’s hit new mobile game, Pokémon Go. But when we’re not playing with our PokéBalls, we are playing with our Pokémon words – swears included.

On social media, wordplay, especially blending, has become a ritual reaction to major new stories and trends. Remember regrexit? Pokémon Go, naturally, has inspired its own blends: pokémontage, pokémoron, pokébond, The Count of Pokémonte Cristo, and  yes, pokéfuck. Twitter alone is proving a veritable PokéStop for all manner of what we can only call pokéswears. Let’s see if we can, er, catch ‘em all.

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Shockingly modern-sounding slang in Shakespeare’s (shockingly violent) Titus Andronicus

While we flip the bird at explicit language advisories on this blog, I do want to issue a trigger warning for this post due to fictional content about rape.

That’s a hell of way to kick off a little language study, huh? But even by today’s standards, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, with its human sacrifice, gang rape, and cannibalism, is just brutally fucking violent. Amid all its carnage, though, is some sexual wordplay that sounds, well, shockingly modern for a play written over 400 years ago.

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For shame!: Outsized insults in The Comedy of Errors

Men: How far we haven’t come.

During the Utah caucuses last month, a super PAC supporting presidential candidate Ted Cruz attacked his Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, with an advertisement featuring a nude photograph of Trump’s wife, Melania. In keeping with a long-evidenced pattern of misogyny, Trump responded by retweeting photographs that suggested Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is less attractive than Melania.

Little has changed, it seems, in 400 years: Not even the great William Shakespeare was above shaming women on the basis of their looks, if his The Comedy of Errors is any measure. But at least he left us with some memorable wordplay, I suppose.

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