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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Linguistics Are Fun!

Here's a fun article on why bad words are bad and the usual historical trajectory of bad words. This begs the question - if fuck and shit just aren't that bad anymore, what is? What term really makes you gasp at its profanity? I can think of one: cunt. Whenever someone uses that word, I think it unbelievably vulgar. But how did it get that power for me? Does it have that power for everyone? Are there other words that do?

5 Comments:

  • The c-word and the n-word are the two biggest-impact swear words out there, I believe.

    The c-word in particular has a long and rich history, with permutations in "The Canterbury Tales" as well as "Hamlet": "Do you think I mean country matters?" "I think nothing my lord."

    Before Dudley Moore and Peter Cook were doing their "Not Only... But Also..." comedy show, they had an act called "Derek and Clive" which was very filthy, and the c-word was tossed around quite often as a generic derogatory rather than a direct reference to the target's gender. That was in the '70s, though, so it may have been an aberration.

    By Blogger Devon, at 2:40 PM  

  • Cunt has never really bothered me. I'm aware that it bothers just about everyone else I know -- but I grew up in a house with a lot of Britishisms. Most of my English friends, especially Londoners, use cunt all the time.

    I can recall my English friend Doug, at the CSUS pub, realizing that he was making people uncomfortable with it. He looked about the table and shouted, "Does it bother you when I say cunt? Cunt, cunt, cuntey cuntey cunt cunt cunt. Fuck it. At least I don't walk about calling you a bloody bugger all the time."

    Much fun.

    By Blogger misterjustin, at 10:14 AM  

  • "At least I don't walk about calling you a bloody bugger all the time"

    And, in contrast, "bloody bugger" has almost no rhetorical impact to most Americans, and is considered by Anglophiles to be more entertaining than insulting.

    By Blogger Devon, at 11:16 AM  

  • One of my dorm-mates freshman year was on a single-woman crusade to "reappropriate" the term, so I got used to it being a term of endearment around Bayit Wiesel. I find it's a useful term for a specific area, but I also have used it as a term of abuse soo...

    I guess swear words have become mainly context-based these days. I know a lot of black people use the n-word freely, but who'd be horrified if I were to utter it.

    By Blogger Lady Kalessia, at 11:32 PM  

  • I have to agree that over the years swear words have become less offensive. What was never said in the presence of women 20 or 30 years ago is common place now. In recent times the c-word has even started appearing on Australian and British TV but after 10.00pm. It's interesting that here in Australia the n-word is not used although there are other local terms that have the same meaning.

    Anyway, my wife absolutely hates the c-word so you won't find me saying it when she is around.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 12:49 AM  

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