Archive for Taboo vocabulary

The love organ of many names

British comedian Richard Herring is theauthor of a 2003 book entitled Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and his Manhood, so he naturally seized upon the republicization opportunity provided by the recent story of the world's first successful penis transplant. He made it the topic of his weekly humor column in The Metro, the trashy free newspaper that I sometimes reluctantly peruse in my constant search for linguistic developments that might be of interest to Language Log readers.

In a bravura display of diversity of lexical choice, Herring contrived to use a different euphemism for the anatomical organ every time he could find an excuse for mentioning it, which, believe me, was a lot. And he left me pondering a serious lexicographical question: just how many euphemisms are there for the appendage in question?

[Unusually, this post is restricted to adult males. Please click "Read the rest of this entry" to confirm that you are male and over 18.]

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Coulter: "Hispanics" and "Mandarins" at a Trump rally

From an anonymous correspondent:

Here’s an article about how Ann Coulter described the audience at a Trump rally as "a melting pot full of 'Hispanics' and 'Mandarins.’” (Her actual words seem to be, “They have Mandarins in the audience. They have Hispanics in the audience.”)

"Ann Coulter brags about the large number of 'Mandarins' at California pro-Trump rally" (shanghaiist, 6/1/16)

This is interesting (and weird) in itself—I’ve not heard this usage before—but I’m mainly sending this along because (not that I mean to defend Ann Coulter), after she justified herself by saying, "They are Mandarins. It is written in Mandarin”, one of the statements the article uses to criticize her is the very silly "Written Mandarin Chinese doesn't exist.”

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What other people might put it

depp

Comedian Doug Stanhope is unable to sleep at night over the way his friend Johnny Depp is being pilloried as a wife-abuser by Amber Heard (she says he hit her in the face with a cell phone); so he did the obvious thing any friend would do: he submitted an expletive-laced article about his angst over the situation to The Wrap. (It has 9 shits, 7 fucks, and one asshole, all cloaked in partial dashification by The Wr––'s cautious c–nsors.) But this is Language Log, not Celebrity Embarrassment Log, and my topic here is syntax. Stanhope and his girlfriend Bingo "have watched Amber Heard f––– with him at his weakest — or watched him at his weakest from being f–––ed with," and he now believes it is time to "tell the f–––ng truth" about his friend:

Bingo and I were at Johnny's house for most of that Saturday until just before the alleged assault. We assumed initially that his dour mood was because of his mother's death the day before. But he opened up in the most vulnerable of ways that it was not only his mother, but that Amber was now going to leave him, threatening to lie about him publicly in any and every possible duplicitous way if he didn't agree to her terms. Blackmail is what I would imagine other people might put it, including the manner in which he is now being vilified.

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ASLS, not ASSoL…

Apparently I wasn't the only one to be taken aback by the Antonin Scalia School of Law — see Jacob Gershman, "George Mason Tinkers With Name of Scalia Law School to Avoid Awkward Acronym", WSJ 4/5/2016:

Days after George Mason University’s law school announced that it was renaming itself after Justice Antonin Scalia, the school is slightly adjusting what it’s calling itself — thanks to unforeseen and unfortunate wordplay.

The name, officially, remains “The Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason University” in honor of the late justice who died in February. But on its website and marketing materials, the name now reads: “The Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University”.

That’s no accident.

The first five words of the “School of Law” version form an acronym that has a phonetic resemblance to a vulgarity, a source of amusement for some bloggers and tweeters and a source of non-amusement for George Mason’s administration, which agreed to rename itself after Justice Scalia at the request of an anonymous donor who pledged $20 million.

A tentative but not finalized decision was made to nip the name-needling in the bud and rearrange the words, a person familiar with the school’s internal discussions told Law Blog. A school spokesman declined to comment.

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More sweary maps from Stan Carey

Stan Carey, "Sweary maps 2: Swear harder", Strong Language (A Sweary Blog About Swearing), 3/22/2016:

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.

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Firefighting without the fire

Bruce Balden was curious as to why the Chinese terms for "fire department" (xiāofáng duì 消防队) and "firefighting" (xiāofáng 消防) do not have the word for "fire" (huǒ 火) in them.  I had thought about that long ago, but never made an attempt to determine why it is so.  Now that Bruce has brought up this issue directly, I am curious how true it is for other languages of the world as well.

For East Asia, since Japan also uses the same expression (shōbō 消 防), it became a question of determining whether the modern terminology for firefighting developed first in China or in Japan.

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New discovery in English historical lexicography

A retired lecturer in medieval history, Dr Paul Booth, has discovered a reference in a 1310 court record to a man named Roger Fuckebythenavele, and he believes it really does mean that the man was known as Roger Fuck-By-The-Navel, the surname (possibly a nickname given by enemies) actually meaning "fuck via the belly button", so this may be the earliest known use of the verb fuck in its sexual sense.

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Teresa Buchanan

If you haven't read about the bizarre and disturbing case of Teresa Buchanan at LSU, here are some links: Colleen Flaherty, "Fired for Being Profane", Inside Higher Ed 9/2/2015; Steve Sanoski, "LSU defends firing of associate professor as faculty senate takes up resolution asking officials to reverse decision", Business Report 9/2/2015; Julia O'Donoghue, "LSU Faculty Senate to decide on censure of King Alexander next month", New Orleans Times-Picayune 9/2/2015; Caitlin Burkes, "Faculty Senate postpones vote on LSU president's censure", The LSU Daily Reveille 9/3/2015; LSU Faculty Senate Resolution 15–15 Regarding the Case of Teresa Buchanan; Catherine Sevcenko, "AAUP Censures Louisiana State Over Buchanan Case, Prompting LSU to Play Dirty", The Torch 9/3/2015; Charles Pierce, "LSU Gets Politically Correct", Esquire 9/4/2015; Ryan Buxton, "Fired LSU Professor Teresa Buchanan Says She Still Doesn't Know What She Did Wrong", Huffington Post, 9/8/2015.

Teresa Buchanan has put up a web site, where you can donate to her legal defense fund via the Louisiana State Conference of the AAUP — unfortunately you can only do so by sending a physical check via paper mail.

 

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Annals of Euphemism: That "intervening ungenteel participle"

Several people have written to me about the obituaries for Vincent Musetto, the author of the famous NY Post headline "Headless Body in Topless Bar".  My favorite is by Margalit Fox ("Vincent Musetto, 74, Dies; Wrote ‘Headless’ Headline of Ageless Fame", NYT 6/9/2015), who points out that

The corresponding headline in The New York Times that day proclaimed, genteelly, “Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect Is Held.” Headlessness was not mentioned until the third paragraph; toplessness not at all.

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Vowels and consonants

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Curses! Introducing a new blog, "Strong Language"

There's a new linguablog that's definitely worth your time if you're not put off by vulgarities. And if you revel in vulgarities, well, you're in luck. It's called Strong Language, and it's the creation of James Harbeck and Stan Carey.

James and Stan have enlisted a great lineup of contributors (I'm happy to be one of them). As the "About" page explains, Strong Language "gives a place for professional language geeks to talk about things they can’t talk about in more polite contexts. It’s a sweary blog about swearing."

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WT[bleep]?

Those LLog readers who aren't already Radiolab listeners should give their latest episode on translation a listen. There are 8 stories packed into this one episode, a few about language and a few not-so-much, but all of them well-worth the price of admission.

But I'm not just here to promote Radiolab. I'm also here to comment on something that happened in this episode that I am now very curious about (curious-enough-to-blog-and-solicit-comments curious, not curious-enough-to-do-some-real-research-of-my-own curious). There's a point in the show where one of the show's hosts (Jad Abumrad) warns listeners that there's going to be some raunchy language used and discussed for the next several minutes; even though the putatively offensive words were bleeped out in the version I listened to (via my iTunes podcast subscription), it was clear that I wouldn't have wanted my 5-year-old child to hear the piece so I appreciated the warning.

But at the very end of the episode, something very different happens. With no warning whatsoever, long strings of uncensored expletives assaulted my ears. I was wearing headphones and nobody else was around, but still I wondered: where was the warning? Why was there no bleeping? And then I realized that I wasn't listening to people speaking English anymore, but rather people swearing in other languages — and the first one was Spanish, which I am also a native speaker of.

But still: is Radiolab's audience (and their innocent children!) not at least potentially multilingual? Why the bleeping of English words and the elaborate warning preceding a story about their use, but no warning or bleeping whatsoever about the same sorts of words in other languages? It's not like I ever understood this sort of censorship and prudishness in the first place, but now I'm royally confused.

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The paucity of curse words in Japanese, chapter 2

[Guest post by Bob Ramsey]

I’ve been thinking about this subject for more than thirty years. It started for me back in the late 70s. Back then, Herb Passin, who was at the time a professor of sociology at Columbia (remember him?), published a series of articles on language subjects in a popular Japanese magazine, and then in 1980 published them in an English-language volume called Japanese and the Japanese: Language and Culture Change (Kinseido). One of those essays of his was called “Comparative Profanity”, where he made the claim that “Japanese curse words and expletives are basically different in nature from the other major languages of the world.” The essay was more than a little over the top, of course, but it certainly gave me some food for thought.

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