Biting the fig. The finger, part II

I wrote about some of the diverse uses of the bird, the single-digit salute, the flip-off—the finger—in my book Damn!, and subsequently here at Strong Language in my digital piece, “Bird is the Word.” I found roots that harked back to a passage in The Clouds by Aristophanes, and to ancient Rome, where it was called the digitus impudicus, or the “impudent finger.” In an epigram of the first century poet Martial, he “points his finger, and the insulting one at that, towards Alcon, Dasius and Symmachus.”  Emperor Caligula offering of his extended middle finger, rather than his hand, to his subjects to kiss was seen as scandalous. But that was Nero for you. What else did you expect? The gesture became so abhorrent that Augustus Caesar banished an actor from Rome for giving the finger to an audience member who hissed at the man during a performance. Although my next book, the cookbook memoir Not My Mother’s Kitchen, did not contain a single cussword or allusion to one, I discovered along the way that the Italian peninsula still had their fingers on the pulse of profanity—only this time with figs. Continue reading

Flight of the Conchords uckin’ with my shi-

New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, consisting of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, had a two-season TV series in 2007–09 full of inspired parody and goofy adventures. The show’s language is generally mild or euphemised:

Flight of the Conchords 1 - Jemaine Clement flup euphemism

So when truly strong language is called for, it’s a big deal. Here, mild-mannered and long-suffering band manager Murray Hewitt finally loses his patience:

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Four Femmes on the Thames: ‘Woman up and grow a twat!’

The Four Femmes on the Thames are a cabaret-style group who specialise in old-style jazz and swing music with a comedy twist. Their song ‘Woman Up’ was described by Holly Brockwell at Gadgette as the sweary feminist anthem of the year. I’m sure you can see the Strong Language angle (and appeal) already.

The title, if you’re wondering, inverts the sexist idiom man up, and instead of grow a pair the Femmes suggest that people grow a twat, recalling a quip (‘Grow a vagina – those things can take a pounding’) often misattributed to Betty White. The song is a 3-minute NSFW delight; lyrics and more below the fold:

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Nine circles of hell

For all of its eternal damnation, hell can seem pretty weak when it comes to strong language. Fuck and bitch, say, can rain down some serious fire and brimstone, but hell? Religious-based swears may not bring the same heat they once did in English, but hell still hath a lot of fury if we look at the many ways it bedevils our tongue. From hell yes! to hell-to-the-no, let’s take a tour of some of the linguistic uses—er, circles—of hell. 

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