Trooper, trucker, sailor, fishwife: What we swear like when we swear like a something

The expressions swear like a trooper and swear like a sailor are so common as to be cliché. But why do we swear ‘like a trooper’ or ‘like a sailor’? And what else do we swear like, idiomatically, in English and other languages?

Troopers and sailors

Swearing has long been identified with the military, source of so much slang, ribald chants, tribal insults, and other forms of strong language. Profanity would come into its own in war, aiding both bonding and catharsis: ‘an easement to the much besieged spirit’, as Ashley Montagu put it.

So routine was swearing in WWI that to omit it carried real force. In his 1930 book Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914–1918, John Brophy writes, ‘If a sergeant said, “Get your ––––ing rifles!” it was understood as a matter of routine. But if he said “Get your rifles!” there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger.’

We can assume that fucking is the censored word. The spread of fuck through war is described in Ruth Wajnryb’s Expletive Deleted (2005):

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Global swearing on the British Broadcorping Castration

The BBC commissioned an article from me on why different languages focus on different things in their strong language. It’s just gone live. They paid me for it, so I can’t just repost it here. But I can give you the link to it, and I can tell you about a few things that got cut in the edit (for length or for politeness).

Here’s the link to the article:

Mind your language! Swearing around the world

Here are three original versions from the pre-edited draft: Continue reading

Sweary links #3

The sweary links are arriving thick and fast these days. Here’s a fresh batch of foul-mouthed items of interest.

The Globe and Mail, having published the band name Fucked Up, robustly defends the decision.

It wasn’t all nasty, brutish and short. Countering the myth of Anglo-Saxon swearing.

Finding the poetry in Kim Sears’ profanity.

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