Ever since the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, people the world over have thought that “screw the pooch” is a phrase commonly used by American military aviators when something goes wrong. I’m here today to tell you it ain’t so. Someone screwed the pooch on that one. Sorry, I mean they fucked the dog.
As Ben Zimmer wrote in Slate, references to “screw the pooch” prior to the publication of The Right Stuff are “surprisingly difficult to find.” This doesn’t surprise me. Euphemism isn’t the order of the day for flyboys. My husband flew giant transports in and out of Vietnam for the U.S. military until Ho Chi Minh blew up the airport in Saigon. He learned some very colorful turns of phrase from that massive shit show, and I learned them from him. I used to use them as a criminal lawyer in Austin, but now I’m in Arizona I’ll face penalty if I do. So here’s my gift for you: A little glossary of coarseness from a Vietnam pilot. Continue reading →
My father-in-law was an elegant man who spoke five languages—six if you count bad language. The latter was seldom spoken in public, but in private among family and friends he could light up the sky with his procession of incandescent oaths. When he caught himself, which was not often, he would then apologize claiming that it was a nasty habit he picked up in the army. Yes, “war is hell,” as the saying goes, and a great deal more. My father-in-law was not alone in this predicament. Most of the veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War with whom I have spoken have, like my father-in-law, blamed the military lifestyle and, in particular, life during wartime, as the source for their unbridled profanity. Considering the unfamiliar, trying, and often life-threatening circumstances, who can blame them? It seems to make sense, then, to dive back into in those trenches.
That’s Oh my fucking god and for the fucking win, for the uninitiated. Sweary acronyms and initialisms are a BFD (big fucking deal) on the internet. It’s hard to imagine everyday online discourse – especially on social media – without frequent encounters with, or use of, WTF (what the fuck), FFS (for fuck’s sake) and their semi-encoded ilk.
Concision is an obvious advantage: STFU and GTFO take far fewer keystrokes than the full phrases shut the fuck up and get the fuck out, saving the (ab)user time, effort, and – perhaps most importantly – the appearance of giving a shit. Sweary abbreviations also play a role in signalling group identity, expressing personal style, and so on, FYFI (for your fucking information). And they are extremely meme-friendly:
As if my brain weren’t already a mush of holiday music, there’s a new earworm stuck in my head. (And soon in yours, too.) They say the holiday season is all about giving, so I’m handing this sweary little gift to you.
Today, a student wanted to share with me a music video of sorts (a holiday promo for Payday 2, a video game) that had been splitting his sides all day:
Student: Can we watch it? There’s swearing.
Me (no hesitation): Absolutely.
(I work with adults with various exceptionalities, in case either the permission or the query raised your eyebrows.)
There’s a lot going here–swearing-wise and swearing aside. The prosody and phonology of “…and a broke-dick piece of shit drill” works quite well with the actual cadence of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” for one. Video games, for another, are impressively cinematic nowadays.