Jay muses that the line “What the digamma?” might actually be a disguised form of “What the fuck?” since the archaic Greek letter digamma (Ϝ) strongly resembles the Latin letter F (even though it was originally pronounced as /w/). So was the author of this verse cleverly using Homeric Greek to express a proto-WTF?
What the fuck has become so commonplace that, as our own Nancy Friedman pointed out, marketers are no longer shy about alluding to it. But its ubiquity has meant a loss of its former power, and we’ve had to find ways to intensify it when our amusement or bewilderment graduates to incredulity.
How the fuck did what the fuck become acceptable — nay, desirable — as a template for business names and ad campaigns? The obvious rhymes, the winking allusions, the no-apologies acronyms: It’s a WTFestival out there.
The Internet has been a-twitter this week with news that McDonald’s, that venerable fast-food chain, has been ruining children’s lives. No, this is not about nutrition–what do you think this is, a food blog? No, this is about Minions.
Minions, for those unaware, are the little yellow figures that resemble walking, babbling Advil capsules and which debuted in the movie Despicable Me. They currently have their own movie and consequently their own requisite appearance as the toy of the season in the McDonald’s Happy Meal(TM). The McDonald’s toys babble when you tap them on a hard surface, and here is where the proverbial shit hits the fan: parents are complaining that one of the toys barks “what the fuck.” Continue reading
Ever seen an old printed book with the letter S that looks like an F? This ligature, to the uninitiated, looks like ſ; it’s called the ‘long s’, and it has very much fallen out of use in modern typography. John Bell is widely credited for the demise of the long S, which is why we don’t see it very much any more, but it is often seen in European books printed between the 1400s and 1790s.
The google ngram reader relies heavily on optical character recognition (OCR) software to make their books searchable; OCR software strives to match each printed character in a text to a recognized typographic character. Even human readers can have difficulty with reading text which heavily use the ſ, as seen from this 1739 printed example of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist:
The Google Books Ngram project is a thoroughly imperfect resource for studying linguistic change in English-language print, mostly because out-of-fashion typographic conventions such as long-S completely throw off searches. To the untrained eye, or to a computer doing its very best to apply modern rules to anachronistic text, the word ‘suck’ using the long-S looks an awful lot like “fuck”. Google seems to know about it, too, as they make their default search dates 1800-2000, but you can easily change that to 1500-2000 and observe the differences in uses between ‘suck’ and ‘fuck’. The primary difference is that between 1650 and 1790, ‘fuck’ appears to be printed far more often than than ‘suck’, with a noticeable switch around 1665: