19 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Swearing & Bird Flips

  1. My grandfather (WW2 veteran) once told me about some military terms they all used: FUBAR (fucked up beyond all recognition) and FUBB (fucked up beyond belief) and some others but those are the two I remember.
    Personally I love cussing. I cuss so much that my 4-year-old niece has been known to drop the f-bomb. Fortunately my sister is pretty chill about it and explained to her that Fuck is a word for home and not for daycare!

  2. I’ve been saying FFS a lot lately, especially today (I was trying to do my taxes online). :)

  3. My favorite curses at the moment include “may your asshole develop tastebuds,” “may you live as a chandelier; to hang by day and burn by night,” and “may an umbrella open in your belly.”

    In terms of profanity, “ta ma de” (Mandarin for “fuck your mother’s cunt”) is a classic. I also like “gui wang ba dan” (two ways of saying “bastard” rolled into one.)

  4. I think that one difficulty people have in accepting obscene language in historical drama and fiction is that Really Bad Words have routinely been avoided in writing for centuries: so much so that etymologists tracking their use rely quite heavily on reports of trials and courts martial. Because someone writing a description of a dust-up for a newspaper or even in a letter to a friend they had witnessed might put ‘The bosun called Higgs a “lazy beggar”, whereupon Higgs struck him with a belaying pin’, but if he were giving evidence in court he would have to say “lazy bugger” and the clerk would have to record that. So if you read period books, letters and newspapers they consistently give you an impression of a much cleaner-spoken society than was actually the case.

    That said, I’m not convinced that Tudor aristocrats would have said “Oh fuck”, simply because it wasn’t a taboo word for them. The Tudors, like medieval people, had no problem calling bodily features and function by their plain proper names even in the politest of company, so an f-bomb would simply have made no sense. It was blasphemy – “profane cursing and swearing” – that carried a frisson.

    1. Most literature that survives pre-20th century was written by elites & has some element of moralistic &/or political tone, so it’s less likely to use everyday common speech. Dickens, for example, in writing about the poorer classes, was hugely moralistic vs. realistic. That’s why we have to use court records to find traces of what ppl actually said — that’s still filtered, but less so.

      Not to mention that anything widely published was subject to censorship by most every country.

  5. I ushered at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC for over 20 years. There is nothing like a live performance to highlight that Shakespeare is full of dick jokes, and if there are dick jokes in a play, there are dick jokes IRL. My favorite is from Hamlet — a colleague lamented that I had ruined Hamlet for her by explaining the true meaning of when Hamlet asks to lay his head in Ophelia’s lap for “country pleasures.”

    1. I’m surprised that it surprised her, given that just before that Hamlet has first asked “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?” and when she squeaks, scandalised, “No, my lord!”, amends his suggestion to something less overtly sexual: “I mean, my head upon your lap”, to which she feebly agrees. It’s surely already obvious that he’s deliberately harassing and embarrassing her with double entendres. And later on he caps her “Nothing” with “That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs”, so anybody who doesn’t register the first syllable of “country matters” as another in the series really isn’t paying attention!

  6. On point. Just finished the book “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing” this week. Interesting read for anyone who wants to learn more about what has constituted swearing a various points in history! It’s always been there – it’s just that the words that pack a punch have changed over time.

  7. Great topic! I personally swear A LOT, but as an European I have the feeling that it is much more accepted here than in the US (for example, we use „Shit“ or „Scheiße“ colloquially in every third sentence) and I love to see this represented on screen. Also, as an Austrian-Italian I can tell you that both German and Italian have their own exquisite swear vocabulary, which is worth learning!

  8. Is the middle finger appropriate for Sissi as a nineteenth-century Austrian, or should she be giving the “dulya” or “fig”?

  9. This is rather a Frock Flick pet peeve of mine. In the milieu in which I grew up (born in 1953) white, middle class, the f-word was never used in casual conversation. My father may have used it in the army in WW II, but he did not bring it home with him. Have you seen those blooper reels of 1930s movie stars flubbing their lines and swearing? They say Goddam and Son of a Bitch, but never the f-word. It did not become common in conversation until after the Vietnam soldiers brought it back with them. So, any first half of the 20th century film that uses it casually seems wrong. I know contemporary speech makes it into period films, and if you have a reason for it, fine. People may have fucked in the suburbs, but they did not SAY fuck in the suburbs.

  10. There used to be an academic journal on abusive language called Maledicta. One of the papers I remember reading was on how what is considered profane and swear-worthy varies considerably by time, place, and class. For example, sailors have been noted for their profanity since at least the 1600s. Also, the current popularity of George Carlin’s seven words is not a constant. Blasphemy for example used to be considerably more popular among English-speakers than it is today.

  11. Back in college, I came across a book on language from the 1960s. It had an entire chapter on the etymology of the word “fuck.” One of the interesting takeaways from that chapter was that English is virtually unique in having created “taboo” words—when I mentioned this to one of my professors, she said, “What’s ‘Pog Mo Thoin’ then?” and I responded, “Crude, but not taboo.”

    It also said that the taboo was slowly eroding, and that the more it was used in common parlance, the less taboo it would be. And I have really seen that in my own lifetime. These days, I’ve heard it from kids. Heck I’ve heard it from my own kids, who don’t get soap in the mouth like in A Christmas Story. They get told that they shouldn’t say that, because if they do, it’s going to come out at some point that it’s not okay. (I also had to tell them to stop saying “what the ——” when the last word was perfectly fine, because it came out as WTF once or twice.)

    The really interesting part is watching older movies, like Spaceballs, and realizing that even though the swearing is mild by today’s standards, it hits harder because it was transgressive when it was filmed. And I laugh at anyone trying to be edgy and transgressive by throwing around swearing today. It’s no big deal anymore.

  12. The 19th-century adventurer and Arab scholar Sir Richard Burton, translator of the Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra, with all the naughty bits not only left in but commented on in extensive notes (whose surname was nicked by a young Welsh actor born Richard Jenkins, when he found there was already a Richard Jenkins on Equity’s books), pointed out that while cursing really seems to be universal in human culture, swearing is not. He said – is there anyone here who can confirm or deny this? – that while ‘Damn you!’ makes perfect sense to an Arab, the word ‘Damn!’ on its own does not.

    Failure to build in differences like that – cursing vs swearing, obscenity vs blasphemy, and so on – when writing strong language for a period novel or movie can really grate. Yes, Imperial Roman and 15th-century Norwegian rough characters certainly cursed and probably swore, but just lazily scattering 21st-century swears such as ‘Shit!’ and ‘Fuck yeah!’ into the dialogue just doesn’t cut it, for me anyway.

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