What a fucking week! In the U.S., Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement — but only after siding with the court majority in upholding President Trump’s travel ban and bestowing a judicial blessing on anti-abortion facilities. The Environment Protection Agency’s chief ethics officer recommended an investigation of his own boss. Immigrant children as young as 3 were being ordered to appear in court alone. A gunman with a festering grudge shot up the newsroom of a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five employees. And in the UK … well, we’ll get there in a minute.
It was, in short, a week guaranteed to elicit a lot of strong language, and on that score it did not disappoint. Here’s a brief round-up.
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.
On Facebook, Jay Dillon posted an intriguing verse that appeared in Prize Translations, Poems, and Parodies, Reprinted from The Journal of Education (1881).
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?
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.
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: