PokéBalls aren’t what they sound like – fortunately. They are capsules used to catch Pokémon, those little creatures swarming our smartphones, our streets, our very lives thanks to Nintendo’s hit new mobile game, Pokémon Go. But when we’re not playing with our PokéBalls, we are playing with our Pokémon words – swears included.
On social media, wordplay, especially blending, has become a ritual reaction to major new stories and trends. Remember regrexit? Pokémon Go, naturally, has inspired its own blends: pokémontage, pokémoron, pokébond, The Count of Pokémonte Cristo, and yes, pokéfuck. Twitter alone is proving a veritable PokéStop for all manner of what we can only call pokéswears. Let’s see if we can, er, catch ‘em all.
You may remember Jack Grieve’s swear maps of the USA. Now he has a nifty new web app called Word Mapper that lets anyone with an internet connection make use of the raw data behind those maps.
Being a mature grown-up, I put on my @stronglang hat and went searching for swears and euphemisms. What emerged were some intriguing – and visually very appealing – patterns of rude word use in contemporary discourse:
About 60 maps follow, so fair warning: It’s an image-heavy post.
Here’s a puzzle: why can’t you say “abso-jesus-lutely”? (Recently brought to my attention by Leland Paul Kusmer.)
Let’s back up for a sec. The classic case of expletive infixation involves “fucking” or “bloody” as in abso-fucking-lutely, abso-bloody-lutely. And one syllable swears can’t infix: there’s no abso-fuck-lutely or abso-shit-lutely. But “Jesus” is two syllables, people swear with it, and it even has the same stress as the other two. Why doesn’t it sound right as an infix?
Celebrating U.S. Thanksgiving next week? Perhaps your guests would enjoy a slice of tofucken, that mischievously named concoction of tofu stuffed with tempeh and seitan. (Hat tip: Barry Popik.)
Eleven charts that will speak to anyone who really fucking loves swearing. (Hat tip: Mike Pope.)
In The Emperor of All Maladies, his best-selling 2010 “biography of cancer,” Siddhartha Mukherjee tells the story of Fanny Rosenow, a breast cancer survivor who in the early 1950s wanted to place an ad in the New York Times for a breast cancer support group. Her query was routed to, of all people, the society-page editor, who expressed regrets. “The Times cannot publish the word breast or the word cancer in its pages,” the editor primly informed Ms. Rosenow, adding that perhaps the ad could be reworded to say “a meeting about diseases of the chest wall.”
We have, needless to say, come a long way in 60 years. Not only is cancer no longer a shameful secret, it’s the frequent subject of movies, TV shows, and comedy routines (collectively known as cancertainment). More to the point of this blog, “Fuck cancer” has become an embraced (if sometimes slightly censored) and widely monetized meme that’s seen in a popular hashtag, in the title of a recent Irish documentary, and in the names of three unrelated charitable organizations in North America.
From “the great unmentionable” (as Mukherjee puts it) to the greatest of four-letter words. How did it happen, and why?