Unparliamentary language—Canadian edition

Picture of the Canadian House of Commons

Legislators in governments based on the Westminster system enjoy parliamentary privilege, which means that, while in the House, they can speak their minds without the fear of being sued for slander. But to retain some modicum of decorum during debates, the Speaker of the House has the authority to rein in politicians who use language deemed unparliamentary, asking foul-mouthed lawmakers to withdraw their comments or face discipline.

Because Canadians will soon head to the polls to elect their forty-second Parliament, I figured now was a good time to look through Canada’s Hansard for some choice quotes from past parliamentarians. As with the Australian edition of our unparliamentary language feature, you’ll likely find the offending words or phrases tame by Strong Language standards. I’ve also included some quotes where the honourable members feel out the boundaries of what’s considered unparliamentary. Continue reading

Getting our hands dirty

Taboo words and expressions are usually among the first things second-language learners want to learn—a fact not lost on sign language instructors like Barry Priori (first introduced to Strong Language in a Sweary Links roundup), who ran “swearing workshops” at the Adelaide Fringe Festival to boost awareness of Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Swearing in sign language is incredibly nuanced and is about much more than learning a simple handshape or gesture. Get it wrong, and you might alienate an entire community, as Kristin Henson found out.

Henson hosted videos on the popular YouTube channel Dirty Signs with Kristin in which she taught her interpretations for signs representing profanity or crude phrases in pop culture, including skullfuck, cunt punt and twat waffle. Her notoriety landed her a book deal, but members of the Deaf community [1] launched a petition urging the publisher to drop the book because, according to sign language instructor Andrea K. Smith, Henson’s signs were “woefully inaccurate, poorly performed, and completely misguiding to those who may be seeking to learn more about American Sign Language.”

So what did Henson do wrong? How do you swear in sign language? Continue reading

Mudebroth! An ejaculation of St. Patrick

Image: jaqian/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For the day that’s in it, here’s a little something on a ‘verbal ejaculation’ attributed to St. Patrick – the fifth century Romano-British* missionary who was later elevated to the rank of patron saint of Ireland. It is to be found in several early medieval hagiographical texts concerning the saint’s activities, and is, allegedly, a corrupted version of a sweary expression he used. Intriguingly, it may actually represent a kernel of truth as the ‘ejaculation’  would appear to be an original Brittonic phrase that was subsequently passed down/corrupted through the medium of Old Irish (Brittonic would have been Patrick’s native language). If so, then there is something refreshingly subversive and endearing  in the idea that Old Irish tradition would be interested in, let alone preserve, an ancient earthy expression from the very mouth of its patron saint.

Patrick is said to have uttered the expression at people who were seriously pissing him off. Its earliest appearance is in a 7th century hagiographical text:

Continue reading

Review: Chambers Slang Dictionary, Jonathon Green

First things first. For fuck there are seven and a half columns of entries, beginning with (of course) fuck as a noun — which, actually, gets fewer than two of those columns to itself as a noun — and ending with fuck you and its sub-entries of “fuck-you money,” “ fuck you, Charley,” and “fuck you, Jack, I’m all right.”

Now that that’s out of the way (I know you assholes, you always look for fuck first in any dictionary you open, just so you can point and giggle like you were 12 — and some of you are 12, so yeah, okay), I can move on to the actual review. Continue reading

Retarded progress


Shit hit the fan for Coca-Cola in September 2013 when a woman in Alberta, Canada, opened a bottle of VitaminWater to see “YOU RETARD” printed on the cap. That cap was part of a promotional game in which English words were randomly paired with French ones, and in French retard simply (and innocuously) means late. The company apologized and pulled the promotion after the woman’s father complained, but the fierce reaction to this unfortunate juxtaposition invites a closer look at how retard and retarded developed the connotations they have today. Continue reading