WordPress, which hosts the Strong Language blog, recently featured us on its Discover site in the form of an interview: Cheri Lucas Rowlands asked James Harbeck and me about the creation of Strong Language, attitudes to profanity, our own swearing habits, taboo terms in other languages, and so on.
You can read it here: ‘What the $@#%: Two Editors on Blogging About Swearing.’
When Stephen Sondheim was writing the lyrics for “Gee, Officer Krupke,” to be sung in the 1957 musical West Side Story, he was hoping to be the first person to use a serious four-letter obscenity in a Broadway show: “Gee, Officer Krupke—Fuck you!” This did not come to pass. Columbia records balked because obscenity laws would prohibit the recording from being shipped over state lines. In the end, the line was changed to “Krup you!”— Sondheim has since maintained that it may be the best lyric line in the show. Is there any doubt what the lyric would be if it were written today? In the fifty-plus years since West Side Story, the expletive is not only fully accepted in the theater, but roundly applauded. Continue reading
You want to hear a dirty joke? You don’t have to go to a schoolyard, locker room, comedy club, or even a Republican presidential debate. No, simply go to your bookshelf, theater, laptop, or wherever you consume masterpieces of English drama and check out one of Shakespeare’s most tragic – and erotic – love stories, Antony and Cleopatra.
I read the play for the first time a few weeks back as part of my ongoing effort, as you may now be well familiar, to take on Shakespeare’s corpus this year 400 years after his death – and boy, is this some hot stuff. The play, no doubt, continues to reward viewers and readers with its complicated and sexualized construction of power and politics in the “infinite variety” (2.2.241) of its leading lady, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Further developing this theme, the play also rewards audiences with some of its strong language – here, centered on taboo topics of sex and genitalia.
At the Strong Language table this U.S. Thanksgiving, we’ll be having none of that euphemistic white or dark meat first served up in the polite speech of 19th-century American English. No, we’ll be piling our plates high with turkey breasts and thighs.
But there’s another part of the turkey that may be a bit naughty if we look to its linguistic history: the wishbone.
Well, apart from those with colostomy bags, I suspect that probably everyone during the course of an ordinary day lets loose at least one emission of “confidential information.” Yet, it comes as no breaking news that discussing it—let alone passing on that information in public—can be more taboo than ventilating any of George Carlin’s “heavy seven” cuss words?
This was not always the case. And Jonathan Swift (expressing himself under the nom de plume Fartinhando Puffindorst, Professor of Bumbast in the University of Cracow) cleared the air of this sonorous subject in his 1722 opus The Benefit of Farting Explained: or Fundamental Cause of the Distempers Incident to the Fair Sex (Proving, a posteriori, most of the disorders entailed on them are owing to flatulencies not seasonably vented). Meanwhile, the prominent Parliamentarian Whig and wit Charles James Fox tooted his own trumpet on the subject in his 1787 An Essay on Wind, in which he resonantly gushes, “Fart loud, I say, and never more be restrained by example, age, rank, or sex, for it is natural and laudable, wholesome and laughable, humorous and comfortable.” Continue reading