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:
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:
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:
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.
Scottish comedian Limmy has some fun with action film clichés in this short (NSFW) sketch from his superb Limmy’s Show. It mixes familiar ideas, like the escalation of insults, with completely unexpected turns like, well, you’ll see. Let’s just say it gives the phrase bad language a new meaning. Transcript follows below the fold.
In a post last month on the versatility of fuck, Rob Chirico wrote that the word has ‘escaped and run from the confines of its sexual root’. That is, most current uses of fuck are independent of sexual meaning. But it’s an incomplete escape. All words shimmer with connotations and the shadows of former and parallel meanings, so ambiguity inevitably creeps in now and then.
The polysemy of fuck (and other swearwords) can be exploited deliberately for entertainment – in jokes, comics, innuendo, and so on. Accidental confusion, by contrast, seems rare. This is because semantic, pragmatic and prosodic context normally provide more than enough information to indicate whether the word is meant sexually or not.
So I was struck by a concrete example of this fucking confusion, even though it was fictional. It appears in Michael Connelly’s suspense novel Chasing the Dime (2002), for which minor spoilers follow in the next paragraph and indented text below.