GrammarBlog

Saturday, 27 October 2007

What the f---?

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I was recently surprised to discover that GrammarBlog lost 38 subscribers following the publishing of 'Thanx' (which contains a naughty word meaning poo). I wouldn't have thought our readers are quite so sensitive.


We have previously decided that GrammarBlog should follow the Guardian style guide when it comes to swear words; however I censored the title of this post so those easily offended would be given a fighting chance of avoiding personal turmoil. In order to avoid an en masse unsubscription please heed the below warning.

If you are of a linguistically sensitive disposition, particularly with regards to expletives, please read no further. If you do read on please be aware that this post contains some pretty fucking strong language.

Right, now those prissy twats have fucked off, the rest of us can address the important business at hand. Stephen Pinker has written a great article for the The New Republic in which the Harvard psychology professor sorts through some of the paradoxes of profanity. In particular, Pinker looks at the futility and stupidity of the Clean Airways Act which caused a bit of a kerfuffle a few years back by trying to define the profanity of seven well known swear words in all possible contexts. Apart from the morality issue, Pinker points out that the sheer unorthodoxy of swearing grammar makes the contexts difficult to pin down, especially if the persons proposing the bill are linguistic morons.
[Regarding] the syntactic classification of curse words. Ose’s grammatically illiterate bill not only misspelled cocksucker, motherfucker, and asshole, and misidentified them as “phrases,” it didn’t even close the loophole that it had targeted. The Clean Airwaves Act assumed that fucking is a participial adjective. But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between 'Drown the lazy cat' and 'Drown the cat which is lazy'. But 'Drown the fucking cat' is certainly not interchangeable with 'Drown the cat which is fucking'.

If the fucking in 'fucking brilliant' is to be assigned a traditional part of speech, it would be adverb, because it modifies an adjective and only adverbs can do that, as in truly bad, very nice, and really big. Yet “adverb” is the one grammatical category that Ose forgot to include in his list! As it happens, most expletives aren’t genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say 'That’s too fucking bad', you can’t say 'That’s too very bad'. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue 'How brilliant was it? Very', you would never hear the dialogue 'How brilliant was it? Fucking'.
It's interesting to note that the catalyst for the Clean Airways Act was a man who, for me at least, creates an uncontrollable urge to use the worst expletives known to mankind. I'm referring of course to that most irrepressible of utter cunts: Bono.


Five minutes and forty-four seconds into this clip, Bono says the dreaded F-word live on NBC. The network was not charged with profanity due to a subsequent FCC ruling stating that their definition of indecent only covers "material that describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities". NBC were let off the hook as Bono used the word merely as "an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation." Conservative America was appalled and an idiotic politician named Doug Ose tried to secure a few reactionary votes by attempting to pass a ridiculous bill. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Fucked if I know.

**UPDATE** It appears the New Republic has removed Pinker's article. Luckily, you can still read it here.

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11 Comments:
Blogger Blues said...

Doesn't everyone know that expletives are punctuation marks and not parts of speech?

28 October 2007 at 19:37  
Blogger Francis said...

You lost 38 readers because of one profanity? They're probably the kind of people who suffered huge moral outrage at Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" and burned their Dixie Chicks albums after their comment at a concert in London. These people need to get a life.

28 October 2007 at 22:56  
Blogger Gez said...

It could have been a Feedburner malfunction. Either way it got me thinking and googling about swearing.

28 October 2007 at 22:58  
Blogger Francis said...

If it was a Feedburner malfunction, your readership should pop back up soon, I'd guess. Anyway, I found this site for anyone else offended: No Cussing. I'm tempted to buy a shirt for ironic purposes!

On a side note, I notice Blogger's CAPTCHA system asks for "word verification". The last time I looked, "temrgr" wasn't a word and neither was the previous selection of random letters I had to copy.

28 October 2007 at 23:19  
Blogger Gez said...

That site is hilarious, Francis. Did you see the rap video?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTNv2dOBFJk

You are right about the word verification, I apologise for that. We recently had our first spam comment and I don't want any more.

29 October 2007 at 00:22  
Blogger Francis said...

Oh dear, that video is appalling! Half way through I thought "this is going to come back and haunt him when he's older", but now I'm not too sure.

No need to apologise for thr CAPTCHA - it was just a comment that a random selection of letters isn't actually a word, which is what the blogger application lists it as.

29 October 2007 at 07:50  
Blogger Dan said...

Gez and anyone else bored or bothered or both; have I ever shown you Teesside Tintin? It's very good and very sweary.

There's quite a lot of them, so just search 'Teesside Tintin' on Youtube. Number 1 is probably the most relevant here.

It's really just your standard fare of sweary dubbing over a cartoon, but with the Teesside accent it's somehow funnier.

30 October 2007 at 12:42  
Blogger Gez said...

See also, Boro Pat.

30 October 2007 at 13:38  
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