Fuck speech acts

Eric McCready, @EVER_3V3R, asked what kind of speech act is expressed by “Fuck the haters.”

This seems like a good excuse to briefly introduce pragmatics, speech acts, and the cooperative principle.

Let’s start with an extremely important fact, the core truth of the linguistic area called pragmatics: All language is behaviour. All language is doing something to produce some kind of effect on some person(s). (This also means that one of the most false and disingenuous sentences in all of English is “I’m just saying,” but you knew that, didn’t you.)

OK, so if we’re doing something when was say something, WTF are we doing? It’s not always the same thing. And actually it’s never just one thing. We owe to J.L. Austin the idea that there are three general kinds of things we’re doing when speaking: Continue reading

“Christ fucking shit merde!” On the variable power of multilingual swearing

In my mid-teens I spent a few summer weeks in beautiful Brittany on a school exchange. With our French peers my classmates and I eagerly exchanged more than just grammar lessons, swearwords being among the most popular items of cross-cultural education. I tried out all the new swears I learned (and did the same when I learned German), but my awareness of their social nuances remained crude. The internet hadn’t happened yet.

As the years passed and my fluency in these languages declined with disuse, I seldom resorted to their swears – the emotional gratification was limited, and I didn’t feel authentic enough. I had im-fucking-postor syndrome. But I never forgot the feeling of swearing in a foreign tongue, the impish appeal of going native with these exotic and tantalising taboos. The phenomenon is especially interesting because swearing, linguistically speaking, is neurologically unusual.

Which brings us to multilingualism.

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Great moments in swearing: You gotta be fuckin’ kidding

It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.

Mention swearing in films and the focus tends to fall on quantity: which film is the sweariest, how many fucks are there, what’s that per minute, and so on. But this is ultimately trivial; I find the quality of curses more interesting. One cult classic that’s less sweary than you’d expect but puts its strong language to memorable effect is The Thing.

John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’ was first adapted for film in 1951 as The Thing From Another World, a quirky B-movie with a flavour of Cold War distrust. Though this adaptation offers wit and melodrama, it feels inescapably quaint to modern audiences, and suffers from that era’s technical constraints. The more obviously a monster is just a person in a suit, the harder it is to suspend disbelief – that goes for the actors too.

By the 1980s this had all changed. John Carpenter, a fan of Campbell’s story (The Thing From Another World is seen playing on a television in Halloween) was going through a purple patch when he was hired to direct a lean new script of The Thing written by Bill Lancaster, son of Burt. Spoilers follow below.

The Thing - S.O.B.

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