If you aren’t reading Strong Language, a new “sweary blog about swearing” from linguists James Harbeck and Stan Carey, you really fucking should. This cheerful temple to the vulgar and profane has only been around for a few weeks, but the roster of contributors—which includes friends of Lexicon Valley Ben Zimmer and Gretchen McCulloch—is already killing it. What is the syntactic role of the in what the fuck? (The construction is called a “vexation interrogative,” as in who the hell knows what the tar a vexation interrogative is?) How many damns, shits, and fucks do we give today versus in 1762? (That’s a trick question: No one ever actually gives a “negative polarity item”—you only don’t give them, unless you are literally pooping.) Why are boobs more decorous than tits? (The first “sound rounder” and conjure up a pleasing “overall shape,” writes Harbeck, whereas the auditory resemblance between tits, nipples, and tips “brings to mind pointy nipples … the one thing to conceal.”) Plus, there are immortal cinematic obscenities. Illegal shit-ins. The most offensive words in the U.K., the U.S., Denmark, Spain, and Brazil, as revealed by the uncontrollable blurting of coprolaliacs, or people who can’t help swearing. (Are we all to some degree coprolaliac? The amount I cackle in delight while reading Strong Language suggests yes.)
My favorite post so far is by Iva Cheung and asks: “Is shit a contronym?” In other words, does the noun embrace its own opposite—either as something awesome (“that song’s the shit”) or stupid (“that song is shit”)? What role do definite articles play in deciding which variety of feces is on hand?
Also, come to Strong Language for sentences like the following:
The fuckin’ in “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding” is surplus to compositional meaning but crucial to the moment and the encounter. Its trochee supplies essential force to the line’s measured disbelief, extending Palmer’s (and by extension the group’s) appalled bewilderment at the boggling form of their alien enemy.
Stay for the, you know, balls.