Fucking shut the fuck up

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The Irish singer Van Morrison was well into his set at a concert in his native isle before a crowd in high spirits. Enthusiastic applause followed every song. At one point in the excited hubbub as Van tried to signal the band to start a new song, a voice yelled out over the crowd, "We love you, Van!". This moved the dour and laconic performer to make his only remark of the evening to his audience. Said Van emphatically to his adoringly ebullient fan: "Fucking shut the fuck up."

My friend Jim McCloskey, the Irish syntactician (in both senses of that phrase) told me this story. He was present at the concert and reported the event. He is a great Van Morrison fan, and I think he views the incident as just a disarmingly inappropriate verbal symptom of Van the Man's well-known shyness and stage fright. I like the story too, but on a less sympathetic basis: I happen to detest Van Morrison's music. His bare, strained voice appeals to me not at all, and I hate even his most popular recordings. (I once offered to put five dollars in the tips jar at the Stevenson College Coffee House at UC Santa Cruz if they would stop playing the Van Morrison CD they had put on. They did, and I did. So his music has negative cash value for me: I have actually paid money to not hear it.) For me the story is about a foul-mouthed verbal indication that the curmudgeonly Celtic soulster is as gratingly unpleasant to his public as his music is to my ears. But no matter. Never mind the man or his music. We are here to try to learn what we can from the syntax of the interesting expression he used.

The main syntactic problem is to determine whether the fuck is being used as an pleonastic (semantically empty) direct object of shut or as a pre-head modifier of the preposition phrase (PP) headed by up. (Yes, the up of shut up is a one-word PP. It is not an adverb — all the traditional grammars are flat wrong on that. The arguments are given in chapter 7 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, or more tersely in A Student's Introduction to English Grammar.) And I think we can do this.

Note first that we also have examples like Get the fuck up those stairs, where again the fuck is after a verb before a PP, and is semantically inert (the utterance means "Get up those stairs"). And in both these cases, the PP is obligatory: neither *Shut the fuck nor *Get the fuck are grammatical with the pleonastic reading of the fuck.

Second, the fuck can co-occur with a direct object NP:

  • I don't know how a full-grown Burmese python got into this maternity ward, but get it the fuck out of here before it eats any babies.
Treating the fuck as a direct object would give us two direct objects for one monotransitive verb in such a case.

Third, the expletive in question can also occur with intransitive verbs:

  • I was trapped in the crowd at a Van Morrison concert and I was wishing I had wings so that I could just soar the fuck out of there.
The verb soar doesn't allow direct object NPs at all, so the fuck simply can't be a direct object.

I conclude that in colloquial English the NP the fuck (and it does indeed have the form of an NP) can function as a pre-head modifier in a PP, including the light one-word PPs (like up) that are known as particles.

The fact that there can be such a modifier underlines the correctness of treating up as the head of a phrase, of course. Van Morrison's bracingly filthy put-down had the structure shown here in tree form:

The Adverb and the NP are both functioning as modifiers. The Clause is of imperative clause type. Shut is (as usual in the shut up idiomatic construction) intransitive.

I will leave the comments area open below, but fucking try to exhibit some fucking phraseological delicacy.

[Addendum: The distinction between intransitive uses of expletive NPs as in this case (get the hell out of here) and the transitive ones from which they may derive (beat the hell out of him) is drawn in a interesting — and not too technical — recent paper by Jack Hoeksema and Donna Jo Napoli on the syntax, semantics, and history of such idioms, "Just for the hell of it: A comparison of two taboo-term constructions", published in Journal of Linguistics 44:2 (2008), 347-378. —GKP]


  1. Luis said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

    I recall reading a short comic by Warren Ellis that had some wannabe IRA or Provo types fucking up a kneecapping by talking too much as they were engaging in it. One man says to another, "Fuck up" as an apparent contraction of "Shut the fuck up".

    It stuck in my head as immediately understandable but difficult to analyze. Your post suggests the answer. I think. It's been way too long since I was a fucking Linguistics major.

  2. Andrew said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    If you don't want off-topic, non-linguistic remarks in the comments, I don't want your non-linguistic remarks on a truly excellent musician in the posts either ;)

    [Privilege of the blogger, Andrew: I don't get salary or perks, but I get to digress any time I want. But I respect your own esthetic judgments, as I do Jim McCloskey's. (I'm a realist/objectivist about such matters, and I actually believe it is possible for me to be wrong in my musical judgments, in the sense that someone could show that in fact Van Morrison's music is good and esthetically enjoyable, convincing me; such things have happened.) And I will tell you this. Right now, since checkout time has passed, I am sitting in the lobby area of the El Rancho Inn at Millbrae using the free wireless (thank you, El Rancho!), waiting until it's time to go to the airport, just me and the African American woman on the registration desk; and the music we are being forced to listen to over the little speakers is a piano and weedy string quartet doing a limp version of John Denver's "You Fill Up My Senses". The woman at the desk and I would each chip in $5 if it would make the Muzak switch to a Van Morrison album. And we would pay $10 and strangle a kitten to make it be Ray Charles. —GKP]

  3. Joseph Dart said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    I notice you used "fucking" twice in your closing sentence, rather than try to get a "the fuck" somewhere in there to parallel your title. I thought about and realised my idiolect seems to disallow both *Try the fuck to exhibit some phraseological delicacy and *Try to exhibit the fuck some phraseological delicacy. (Though I perceive the second as more broken than the first.) You too?

  4. NW said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

    Oh, it fails so many tests:

    *The fuck was shut up by the audience.
    *What they shut up was the fuck.
    *That was the fuck they shut up.

  5. Dan Milton said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

    The first ten or twelve essays in that magnificent 1971 volume "Studies out in Left Field, Defamatory Essays Presented to James D. McCawley on the Occasion of his 33rd or 34th Birthday" pretty well covers the grammatical usage of "fuck".
    As U Pani Shad of the Elephant's Breasts State Teachers College of the Sacred Heart writes), "English fornicatives, defecatives, and theo-imprecatives form a separate class of words [which can enter] a large number of slots … blocked to other members of of the same (seeming) word classes."

  6. jfruh said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    I've actually been thinking of obscene phrases that seem to spiral away from the original "I beat the shit out of him" or "I scared the shit out of him." I've always imagined that these are meant to be more or less literal — it is possible to physically abuse or terrify someone to the point where they involuntarily defecate, in which case "shit" in both sentences is a direct object. But then there are variations that can't really be taken literally, like "I scared the hell out of him" — I guess maybe "the hell" means something like "the bad behavior?" or "I scared the fuck out of him"; the latter looks like "Let's get the fuck out of here" but it can't be the same grammatically, can it?

    One particularly funny variation came in an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000: "I'm going to follow the hell out of that car!"

  7. Jens Fiederer said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

    I will leave the comments area open below, but fucking try to exhibit some fucking phraseological delicacy.

    Fuck, no, you pretty much declared open season.

    BTW, no star is needed next to "That was the fuck they shut up" or, for that matter, "That was the dumb fuck they shut up." The "fuck" just isn't inert any more.

    [Jens is quite right: ever since fuck became a human-denoting noun (You've killed my Burmese python, you stupid fuck!), it has been possible for the fuck to occur in NP slots on a fairly broad basis. But not as a semantically inert pleonastic epithet with the affective function of conveying personal irritation. —GKP]

  8. anon said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    jfruh: I'd take it less literally than that — it's just replacing one curse word — fuck — with a word the speaker finds more appropriate for the audience, or the situation. "Hell" is a less shocking word than "fuck", but conveys much of the same sentiment in phrases.

  9. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

    It's not that uncommon to hold that Van's music is often good and sometimes spectacular but also accept that he may frequently be quite a jerk in his dealings with other human beings. That's my own view. For broader linguistic interest (for those at least neutral as to the merits of his music), many of his albums from the mid-'80's on have some tracks with spoken-word recitative segments which display what I think is the quite lovely (although de gustibus . . .) rhotic Belfast accent. As with many British/Irish singers, regional dialect features are much more noticeable in his speaking voice than in his singing voice.

    This seems as good an opening as any to pass on a musico-linguistic item I recently stumbled across (while looking for something else, as aways happens on the internet) that may be of potential interest to others in the LL audience: if you go to http://www.mybeatclub.com and search for Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band, you will come up with two vintage black-and-white performance clips (first aired on German tv in March '67) that *may* include glimpses of the young GKP. (If he's the fellow lurking behind the keyboards, he gets the least on-camera time of anyone in the band.) Those interested in calculating Erdos-Bacon numbers for rock musicians by linking them to GKP will also want to check out the Vinegar Joe clip from several years later, which features a Ram Jam alum on slide guitar together with the great Elkie Brooks and the very young Robert Palmer.

    [Just to nip any rumors in the bud by exposing them to the cruel frost of truth: J. W. Brewer is entirely correct here. Guitarist Pete Gage and I (warning: there are two Peter Gages in the industry) formed the Ram Jam Band in the middle 1960s, and hired Geno Washington, and tried for several years to make a good living bringing Stax-label soul music to British audiences. We did a few TV appearances. After Geno broke with the band (but stole the name) in 1967, I decided that linguistics looked a better bet than playing Hammond organ in a soul band at events where most of the kids were stoned. Pete stayed in the industry and went on to form Vinegar Joe, with two singers: Elkie Brooks (to whom he was then married) and Robert Palmer. That arrangement broke up mainly because Elkie (who had some jazz-like leanings) was driven mad by Robert's tendency to sing very straightforwardly on the beat. (Robert, of course, became the bigger star and did some classic rock songs and famous videos as a solo artist later. I visited him at his home in the Bahamas in 1980, long before his later move to Switzerland. I was saddened to hear in 2003 that he had died a tragically early death from a sudden heart attack.) Pete Gage is now teaching sound production technology at a college in Sydney, Australia, so we both ended up in the higher education business. Hey, what does this have to do with language?? —GKP]

  10. mollymooly said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

    If you don't like Van the Man, you might prefer Shaggy 2 Dope's debut album "Fuck The Fuck Off".

    I tentatively suggest that "Fucking fuck the fucking fuck off" fills every available synactic slot.

  11. Bill Walderman said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

    Is "the fuck" really an NP? Isn't it really some sort of unit that can't be subjected to further analysis? You can't insert an adjective between "the" and "fuck," and no true noun can replace "fuck" except another expletive like "hell."

    [NPs can have fixed form in idioms, like the bucket in kicked the bucket. That doesn't mean they don't have NP form. —GKP]

  12. NW said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    Oh yes you can. Shut the fucking fuck up.

  13. Bill Walderman said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    "Shut the fucking fuck up." That's ungrammatical.

    [No it fucking isn't. Hey, didn't I warn you people to be decorous? —GKP]

  14. Jens Fiederer said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    Google suggests otherwise:

    Results 1 – 10 of about 2,260,000 for "shut the fucking fuck".

  15. AJ said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    Or maybe "shut the fuck up" can't be parsed as separate words because that phrase is an oath unto itself. Van could have said "fucking go to hell" or "fucking piss off" just as easily. Is there a technical term for what I'm talking about … cuss unit? swear cluster?

  16. Spectre-7 said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    "Shut the fucking fuck up." That's ungrammatical.

    I don't find that ungrammatical, so long as the fucking fuck refers to a person that I wish someone else would forcibly shut up. I might prefer shut that fucking fuck up, however. :)

  17. Isobael said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

    Who the fuck is Van Morrison?

    Was that grammatically correct?


  18. Dan S said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:39 pm

    Long ago, Jorge Hankamer asked his "gen ed"survey class ("Hum 109: Language") how to understand "fuck you."

    "it's imperative!" someone insisted.

    Jorge wrote on the chalkboard:

    * Fuck you or I'll hit you with this brick.

    That might've been the moment I became fated to take a couple degrees in Linguistics.

  19. Devon Strolovitch said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

    Why couldn't my dissertation have been this much fun?

  20. Nathan Sanders said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    The relevant the fuck seems indeed to be an NP, albeit highly restricted semantically in what modifiers it can take. All of the following are grammatical for me:

    (1) Get the goddamn(ed) fuck out of here.(2) Get the holy fuck out of here.(3) Get the sweet fuck out of here.

    and my favorite:

    (4) Get the proverbial fuck out of here.

  21. David said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

    Pace Churchill, this is the fuck up with which I will not shut.

  22. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

    To steer my GKP-biographical digression back toward language and perhaps mildly taboo vocabulary, I think the Vinegar Joe song you can find at the aforementioned website is of some semantic/sociolinguistic interest. Elkie Brooks sings to the German tv studio audience that she is "proud to be a honky woman" and is "looking for a honky man." Was it really the case, in 1973 or at some other time, that an actual white American female, of any socioeconomic status, would have used "honky" to refer to herself and her desired mate other than in a jocose or ironic context? It could definitely work if you substituted in "redneck," but "honky"? I think this may be the result of a British rock musician writing lyrics in a style attempting to simulate American vernacular usage but just getting it wrong. Or maybe I'm just wrong about the usage of "honky" circa '73.

    But this is another digression, albeit a linguistic one, so feel free to stay focused on the original taboo vocabulary subject of the thread.

  23. Jim said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

    Are there any values of X that can preserve the meaning of "shut X up" as "'shut up' with great intensity", and for which X is not some form of invective? I'm almost wondering if the use of emphatic curses in English is a law unto itself, not paralleled by any other common grammatical feature. Sentences like e.g. "shut the fuck up" and "shut the loudmouth up" seem like they should be described very differently structurally, despite the superficial similarity.

  24. Jair said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

    Oh lord, this blog and the following comments had me hysterical. The guy next to me in the computer lab was giving me funny looks. Thank you, Language Log.

  25. Joey said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    Why the fuck wasn't English Grammar a six-week course? I miss this fucking stuff already. Alternately, come the fuck back to UC Santa Cruz. Then you will be forgiven for only teaching a three-fucking-week course.

  26. absentientminded said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

    Jesus fucking Christ.

    Isn't "fucking" here *not* to be taken literally? I always hear and mean it as emphatic–for emphasis. Now I'd like to hear what parts of speech "Jesus" and "Christ" are in the phrase, which sounds to me like a complete sentence.

  27. John Lawler said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

    @Jim — it's an older and more general problem (which means it's normal linguistics). See Quang's classic 'English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subject', from which the following example sentences are taken:

    (4) I said to close the door.
    (5) Don’t close the door.
    (6) Do close the door.
    (7) Please close the door.
    (8) Close the door, won’t you?
    (9) Go close the door.
    (10) Close the door or I’ll take away your teddy-bear.
    (11) Close the door and I’ll give you a dollar.

    (12) *I said to fuck you.
    (13) *Don’t fuck you.
    (14) *Do fuck you.
    (15) *Please fuck you.
    (16) *Fuck you, won’t you?
    (17) *Go fuck you.
    (18) *Fuck you or I’ll take away your teddy-bear.
    (19) *Fuck you and I’ll give you a dollar.

    (20) Wash the dishes and sweep the floor.
    (21) *Wash the dishes and fuck you.
    (22) *Fuck you and wash the dishes.

    (23) Clean and press these pants.
    (24) *Describe and fuck communism.

    (26) Fuck these irregular verbs.
    (27) *John fucked these irregular verbs.
    (28) Fuck communism.
    (29) *John fucked communism.

    (30) Fuck these seven irregular verbs.
    (31) Fuck irregular verbs.
    (32) Fuck all irregular verbs.
    (33) *Fuck seven irregular verbs.
    (34) *Fuck any irregular verb.

    (45) Damn Lyndon Johnson.
    (46) Shit on Lyndon Johnson.
    (47) To hell with Lyndon Johnson.
    (48) Hooray for Christine Keeler.

    (49) Damn those irregular verbs.
    (50) *Damn those irregular verbs tomorrow.
    (51) *Damn seven irregular verbs.
    (52) Shit on all irregular verbs.
    (53) *Shit on each irregular verb.
    (54) *Hooray for an irregular verb last night.

  28. Nicholas said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

    I'm 44 and "honky" in this context seems normal to me. Do you remember this: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0694453/quotes ?

  29. Fred said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    @Jim — In one of his podcasts, Stephen Fry says (I can't recall the context, and can't be arsed to listen through them all looking for it right now): "Oh, shut up, shut up, shut SO up!"

    So yeah. That's all I got.

  30. Erik said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

    I'm wondering how phrases like "who the fuck" (as in "What the fuck is that?" or "Can someone please tell me who the fuck decided it was the new fashion for people to show off their pelvic bones?") would factor into your analysis.

    [Different construction entirely. Expletive NPs like the fuck can also be attached after the head in phrases that have a wh-pronoun as head. —GKP]

  31. Noetica said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

    Great to see that Language Log is doing its bit to deal with our hallowed English tetragrammata. Over at Languagehat some of us have embarked on a protracted discussion of cunt, and have only recently moved on to fuck. I'll link this thread there, to prevent duplication of effort. Some might think we ought to er, … shut up entirely. But nah.

  32. Robert Morris said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

    Exhibit some delicacy? Well, [I summarily reject] that!


  33. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    I've always taken "fuck you" to be a construction like "long live the king" or "let there be light." In other words, a third person imperative.

  34. Francis Bond said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

    To get a bit more linguistics into this fucking discussion, I'd like to note that there are other NPs (or possibly N bars) that can modify PPs, such as measure noun phrases:

    (1) The first asteroid landed ten meters in front of me.

    here too it is ungrammatical without the PP.

  35. Kenny Easwaran said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 10:52 pm

    I was trying to come up with an example where it was grammatical to use "the fuck" but the PP already had an object. However, the examples I came up with all involve two prepositions, only one of which had an object, as in Nathan Sanders' "Get the fuck out of here" type. I also came up with some examples that seem plausibly acceptable but look less plausibly like they involve prepositions:
    (1) Go the fuck home!
    (2) We've got to get the fuck outside before it explodes!
    But maybe "home" and "outside" need to be analyzed as prepositions too – I don't happen to have a copy of the CGEL to see if the relevant arguments apply here as well.

    As a further piece of evidence that "the fuck" is not a direct object of the verb, I seem to detect a slight difference in the emphasis given to different words if I intend the standard reading or if I intend the direct object reading. But maybe this is just an artifact of thinking about this explicitly.

  36. Ellen said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

    Jonathan Mayhew: I was puzzled by your post at first. But I think I get it now. You mean wishing an action on the "you". As if there's an understood "may someone…". Am I understanding you correctly?

  37. dr pepper said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

    I once heard a piece on the radio on how unpleasant VM could be in person, and how it had stunted his career. But of course he didn't care which to some of his fans makes him an artist with integrity.

    As for his music, i like it. I especially like `Wavelength' with the warble.

  38. dr pepper said,

    July 28, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

    Also, my impression is the expletives are intensifiers of meaning. That is "get the bleep out!" has the same meaning as "get out!" but with more emotional volume, indicating greater desire on the part of the speaker that the action be accomplished.

  39. Tom said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:54 am

    In Star Trek IV, when officers of the Enterprise time-travel back to 20th-century San Francisco, Dr. Spock makes some efforts to blend in, including awkward attempts at profanity:

    Spock: They like you very much, but they are not the hell "your" whales.

  40. Alan McBee said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 1:39 am

    "Shut the fucking fuck up." That's ungrammatical.

    I don't find that ungrammatical, so long as the fucking fuck refers to a person that I wish someone else would forcibly shut up.

    This is ambiguous. It might be that "the fucking fuck" refers to a person. But I think it's more commonplace that it's simply a "poetic" reiteration for emphasis (my time in the Army was well spent, no?) In that sense, "fucking" is a modifer of "the fuck". It would be interpreted the same as "Shut the goddamned fuck up."

    This is a fine fucking blog, btw.

  41. mollymooly said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 1:53 am

    @J. W. Brewer

    Maybe "honky" has been misinterpreted as relating somehow to honky-tonk.

    OTOH, it's complimentary* even now to refer to a white** British woman as a "cracker".

    * Sexist, but complimentary.
    **Or a non-white British woman.

  42. John Cowan said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 2:06 am

    As for the bucket, I have no problem with Shut the fuck up or you're going to kick the fucking bucket, so it's not quite true that it's a fixed-form idiom.

  43. Philip Spaelti said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 2:47 am

    @John Cowan: As for the bucket, I have no problem with Shut the fuck up or you're going to kick the fucking bucket, so it's not quite true that it's a fixed-form idiom.

    The problem with your argument is that you can't use "fucking" as syntactic test. It is not an adjective in the standard sense, but rather it is a prosodic element, with a simple intensifying role. It can go in many places where adjectives can abso-fucking-lutely not go.

    Despite Geoff's (and Quang's) attempts to analyze these things in syntactic terms, this is unlikely to be entirely successful, since prosodic considerations are of primary importance.

  44. Andrew Koontz-Garboden said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:18 am

    >>[A different] Andrew said, July 28, 2009 @ 4:21 pm
    >>If you don't want off-topic, non-linguistic remarks in the comments, I
    >> don't want your non-linguistic remarks on a truly excellent musician in
    >> the posts either ;)
    > [Privilege of the blogger, Andrew: I don't get salary or perks, but I get to
    > digress any time I want…—GKP]

    In fact, not only do you get to, but it's obligatory. (See Beaver's Maxim of Digression: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000132.html )

  45. Sili said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 4:35 am

    I don't know how a full-grown Burmese python got into this maternity ward, but get it the fuck out of here before it eats any babies.

    I'm disappointed. This example would be better if it read "any more babies".

    Off topic, but more snow-word mockery.

  46. MikeyC said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:28 am

    Fuck me sideways, grammatical analysis lives and breathes.

    Great 'uckin post, Geoff!

  47. MikeyC said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:46 am

    But which came first?

    scared the living daylights/bee-jesus out of me

    scared the (living) crap/shit/fuck/hell/doo-doo/heck out of me

  48. ron said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:50 am

    Regarding the above expressions "abso-fucking-lutely" (by Philip Spaelti) & "Jesus fucking Christ" (by absentientminded), what other words besides "fucking" can be, um, inserted either into other words or between words or names that way? All I can think of at the moment is something like un-fucking-believable (or unbe-fucking-lievable).

  49. anon said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 6:32 am

    IIRC, Mencken reported hearing "inde-goddam-pendent" from movie mogul Sam Goldwyn.

  50. Lukas said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 6:35 am

    — Shut the fuck up!— The fuck I will!

    Now it's a negative adverb(?).

  51. be_slayed said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 7:27 am

    @ron: bloody can also undergo "fucking"-infixation (/in-"fucking"-fixation?), e.g. in-bloody-credible

  52. scruss said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 7:34 am

    I think that Van the Man was merely emphatically advising the fan in which direction the fuck should have been properly shut.

  53. jammy said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 7:49 am

    I remember there was an episode of Spaced (a TV series with Simon Pegg that aired about ten years ago I think) where two of the characters named a battle robot that the built T.F.U. which stood for The Fuckest Uppest.

    I'm not sure what inspired the name and I don't think I've really seen fuck used as a superlative like that or that construction. Nor does it seem to fit any construction I remember seeing. But I think I'll make an effort to find ways of using it.

  54. Tom said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 8:06 am

    The problem with your argument is that you can't use "fucking" as syntactic test. It is not an adjective in the standard sense, but rather it is a prosodic element, with a simple intensifying role. It can go in many places where adjectives can abso-fucking-lutely not go.

    What about
    kick the proverbial bucket?

    I'm just saying that in this example the adjective is an adjective in a sense that is closer to the standard one.

  55. Tom said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 8:09 am

    To update an old joke …

    VISITOR: Where the fuck is your mother.

    JOHNNY: She went the fuck out.

    VISITOR: Johnny! Where the fuck is your grammar?

    JOHNNY: She went the fuck out, too.

  56. JRSM said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    Another variation being "The fuck?", meaning 'What the fuck?", where the actual meaningful word has gone, and only the tone gives the question any sense.

  57. Ken Brown said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 8:55 am

    mollymooly said: "OTOH, it's complimentary* even now to refer to a white** British woman as a "cracker". * Sexist, but complimentary."

    Why "even now"? "Cracker" has never been an insult in Britain or Ireland as far as I know. If it is one in the USA most of us don't know what it means.

    Not sure its sexist either. You could just about use the word of a man. If I can believe Google it's associated with animals. A bit of searching brings up "he's a cracker" used about dogs, cats, and horses. But some male humans – an Irish pub landlord, a professional footballer, and a couple of DJs and a comedian. I call the Daily Mail in evidence. A headline from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1089805/: "He's a cracker: Frank Carson, now 82, whizzes Jane Fryer down memory lane and proves why the old ones are the best" OK its a pun, but they wouldn't have made it if they though the word was either derogatory or solely about women.

    I'd guess that the connotation is "crack" as fun/banter/joking/partying (That wonderful old English word the Irish are trying to nick) So to call someone a "cracker" is to assert that they are fun to be with.

  58. scav said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:14 am

    I parse "the fuck" as intensifying the preposition in some way:
    – get right out of there!
    – get the fuck out of there!

    I've also heard "…and you can fuck _right_ off".
    So this doesn't sound ungrammatical to me:
    – fuck right the fuck off, right fucking now.

    I just needed to use up some of my excess fucks before I have to answer any more work e-mails this afternoon :-)

  59. peter said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:23 am

    be_slayed said (July 29, 2009 @ 7:27 am)

    "@ron: bloody can also undergo "fucking"-infixation (/in-"fucking"-fixation?), e.g. in-bloody-credible"

    This insertion is common in Australian English, as was parodied in John O'Grady's poem, Tumba Bloody Rumba, copied here:

    I was down the Riverina, knockin' 'round the towns a bit,
    And occasionally resting with a schooner in me mitt,
    And on one of these occasions, when the bar was pretty full
    And the local blokes were arguin' assorted kind of bull,
    I heard a conversation, most peculiar in its way.
    It's only in Australia you would hear a joker say:
    "Howya bloody been, ya drongo, haven't seen ya fer a week,
    And yer mate was lookin' for ya when ya come in from the creek.
    'E was lookin' up at Ryan's, and around at bloody Joe's,
    And even at the Royal, where 'e bloody NEVER goes".
    And the other bloke says "Seen 'im? Owed 'im half a bloody quid.
    Forgot to give it back to him, but now I bloody did –
    Could've used the thing me bloody self. Been off the bloody booze,
    Up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin' kanga-bloody-roos."
    Now the bar was pretty quiet, and everybody heard
    The peculiar integration of this adjectival word,
    But no-one there was laughing, and me – I wasn't game,
    So I just sits back and lets them think I spoke the bloody same.
    Then someone else was interested to know just what he got,
    How many kanga-bloody-roos he went and bloody shot,
    And the shooting bloke says "Things are crook –
    the drought's too bloody tough.
    I got forty-two by seven, and that's good e-bloody-nough."
    And, as this polite rejoinder seemed to satisfy the mob,
    Everyone stopped listening and got on with the job,
    Which was drinkin' beer, and arguin', and talkin' of the heat,
    Of boggin' in the bitumen in the middle of the street,
    But as for me, I'm here to say the interesting piece of news
    Was Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin' kanga-bloody-roos.

  60. Erik said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:42 am

    ron, re infixes:
    I'm always on the look-out for these. I've heard "fucking" in countless instances, "bloody" in a few (Eddie Izzard: "Pay a-bloody-ttention!") and "god-damned" once (Dr. Evil: "Well this is ri-god-damned-diculous."), but that's it.

    scav, re "right":
    Excellent example. "right" does seem to me to serve more of an intensive purpose than an adverbial purpose in "get right out", and I don't get the impression that it's an expletive replacement.

  61. Picky said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    As far as I know any expletive of present participle shape can be inserted in this way. Bleedin (there are no Gs in my expletives), soddin, even feebles like flippin and flamin.

    And as well as bloody, ruddy.

  62. Picky said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    And Buggerin

  63. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    Ellen at 11:09 last night. Yes, that's what I meant. Sorry I wasn't more f**** clear.

  64. Blake Stacey said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    Ruttin' can also be heard as an infix, if you hang out with Firefly fans.

    (My personal favourite fuck construction is fuck the heck, brought to our attention by Arnold Zwicky a while back.)

  65. language hat said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    I agree with Alan McBee: "Shut the fucking fuck up" is perfectly grammatical, and his "reiteration for emphasis" is a good description.

    On the topic of Van Morrison:

    1) I am a huge fan of his, but I can easily understand why his voice turns some people off, as does that of Bob Dylan, of whom I am also a huge fan. (My wife, for instance, can't stand Dylan, which saddens me.)

    2) It is a constant source of puzzlement to me that people expect creative types (writers, musicians, artists, etc.) to also be good and admirable people. It's certainly possible, but the odds are against it, both because the more powerful the creative urge the more it tends to override other factors like practicality and morality and because the life of someone who makes a necessarily uncertain (until one becomes a superstar, at which point other negative factors come into play) and often peripatetic living by doing things at odd hours is not conducive to patience, tolerance, empathy, and similar admirable traits. If you're a bandleader, it's infinitely more important that the band play tightly and accurately than that the musicians' feelings not be hurt (see: Buddy Rich). It wouldn't make me happy to hear Van curse out a fan, but it wouldn't surprise me either, and it certainly wouldn't affect my love for his music.

    Great post and discussion!

  66. Pix said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    "It's a cracker" is/was – I don't know if he's still performing – Frank Carson's catchphrase, so while the headline Ken Brown quotes has other possible readings, the Daily Mail subeditor needn't have given them much thought.

    The phrase tends to mean something like "What a funny joke!", but that's because of Carson's profession: it's actually a subset of a more general usage in which "a cracker" is an outstanding example of whatever virtue is being accredited, which is the sense in which it might describe a beautiful woman or a well-chosen present. It's related to "cracking" as an adjective of commendation in English slang of the Famous Five / Just William vintage, and the association with "crack" meaning joke, "cracking a joke", or "crack/craic" meaning banter, seems to me fortuitous but contingent.

  67. John said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:21 am


    "I tentatively suggest that "Fucking fuck the fucking fuck off" fills every available syntactic slot."

    How about:

    "Fer fuck's sake, fucking fuck the fucking fuck off, you fucking fuck!"

  68. Nock4Six said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    Can I say Oh My Fucking God? The entry is great. The responses are flipping HILARIOUS. Thank you for making my Wednesday a whole fuck of a lot better.

    And shut the fucking fuck up is going to be my saying of the week, but I'm adding "you fuckface" to the end of it. Every time someone cuts me off, "shut the fucking fuck up you fuckface" is coming out of my mouth.

  69. Spell Me Jeff said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    Fuck you has always struck me as an odd construction. You would think it would take the reflexive, viz. fuck yourself. And you do hear that often. Google puts the ratio at 19M to .75M. Fuck me is likewise curious. Taken literally, it sounds like a request one gives to a prostitute. But that's not what it means at all.

    I suppose I'm emphasizing the beauty of expletives and pleonasms. While their affective force may well derive from their "conventional meaning," their meaning in context, and hence their syntactical relationship to the rest of an utterance, is fluid in ways that other words do not enjoy.

    Or perhaps that remark is tautological? Do we recognize an expletive/pleonasm by its syntactic/semantic fluidity? Is the fluidity an accident, perhaps a recent addition to the language? Was it available to Shakespeare? The following makes a kind of Burgessian sense even when we use a nonsense word:

    Votch! What the votch are those votching votches doing to that votching old votch when they votching well know they should leave it the votch alone? Unbe-votching-lievable! The whole votching operation is totally votched up. Don't like my language? Well, votch you and the votching votch you rode in on, you votchy piece of votch!

  70. vanya said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    I"m not a big fan of Van Morrison either, but his recording with the Chieftains – "Irish Heartbeat" – was great. And despite his flaws, Van is still a far better human being than Bono.

  71. Bill Walderman said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:33 am

    '"Cracker" has never been an insult in Britain or Ireland as far as I know. If it is one in the USA most of us don't know what it means.'

    I've always heard it used as a synonym for "redneck," i.e., a poor white country person, with respect to residents of Georgia and Florida, but not of other states.

  72. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:33 am

    As evidence it all converges, I first learned the British/Irish sense of "crack" as "fun" while trying to make sense of a Van Morrison lyric. It was I think a song that had come out shortly after the cocaine sense of "crack" had been lexicalized into American English, where assuming that sense would made the lyric particularly bizarre.

    It does seem that the British/Irish use of "cracker" as applied to a person (which perhaps seems loosely analogous to American phrases like "He's/she's a real pistol/firecracker"?) is probably unrelated to the pejorative and racialized American use of the word. As to "honky," it would appear that Nicholas and I have divergent native-speaker intuitions, although I don't think the usage in the vintage SNL routine he cites is inconsistent with my sense that the usage in the Vinegar Joe song is odd (since it's not the Chevy Chase character who's using the word, much less using it to describe himself in a context neither ironic nor jocose).

  73. wally said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    On the subject of rock stars and "fuck" a recent Rolling Stone magazine had a long article about Gregg Allman. He talks about getting letters from the prisoner convicted of murdering Greggs dad when Gregg was a little boy. Asked if he wrote back, Gregg said "The fuck no" which struck me as an interesting and odd phrase.

  74. John said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    How about:

    "It's way the fuck in there."


    "This is way the fuck off topic, but…"

    Are these examples of "the fuck" modifying something other that a PP (i.e. "way")?

  75. Sili said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

    "Oh Smeg. What the smegging smeg's the smeggy smegger smegging done?"

  76. Fred said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

    I'm surprised that it all the way to JW Brewer's comment for the racial aspect of "cracker" to be mentioned, and even then, s/he dances around it.

    "Cracker", in addition to the "redneck" uses Bill Walderman points out, is used by (some) black north americans to denote "white person", and to connote everything perceived as "whitely uncool"…eats mayonnaise (cf. Undercover Brother), no rhythm/soul, racist, etc. etc. Good God people, don't you watch Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock?

  77. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

    Well, "cracker" was a digression from the question I'd raised about the Vinegar Joe usage of "honky," which was itself a digression. The funny thing about "cracker" is that the Dave-Chappelle sense may be widely understood by blacks to apply to whites even in an urban, Northern setting but may frequently be understood by urban, Northern whites to apply primarily if not exclusively to the rural Southern types (with whom they don't necessarily sympathize or identify). This lack of consensus on semantic scope may impair the word's usefulness (if that's the right way to look at it) as a cross-racial insult. It's sort of like a European trying to insult a white guy from the Deep South by calling him a "Yankee": you may create confusion when you were trying only to give offense.

  78. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:38 pm

    And of course from the U.S. perspective we sometimes think that Brits even pronounce their expletives funny. There was an American band that did a parody/tribute act consisting of songs by Oasis under the stage name The Fookin' Wankers, that being an American approximation of how we imagine Mancunians talk to one another when being abusive.

  79. MattF said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

    So, which is bigger– a big fucking truck, or a fucking big truck?

  80. language hat said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

    And of course from the U.S. perspective we sometimes think that Brits even pronounce their expletives funny.

    I only recently learned that Brits pronounce twat to rhyme with hat.

  81. rpsms said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    Regarding Van Morrison: I never liked his music because he never shut the fuck up.

    I have been a urban white northerner all my life and have never had any problem perceiving "cracker" as an insult. I always thought "cracker" was chosen because it is dry white bread that is hard to swallow.

  82. Jake said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    > "Shut the fucking fuck up." That's ungrammatical.

    > [No it fucking isn't. Hey, didn't I warn you people to be decorous? —GKP]

    Interesting that 'no it fucking isn't!' is synonymous with 'the fuck it is!' despite looking opposite…

  83. Sili said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    Me too, Hat. Me too.

    Was right embarrassed to learn I'd said it wrong (in my head at least).

  84. Brett said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

    So, which is bigger– a big fucking truck, or a fucking big truck?

    I was surprised to find that it made a difference, but to me, the second one sounded distinctly larger. I suppose "big fucking truck" really just means the same as "big truck"; in this case, the expletive serves merely as an emotional intensifier. However, the "fucking big truck" is "fucking big," which is bigger than just "big"; in this case, "fucking" is a scalar intensifier.

  85. Jack Collins said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    I often found myself shouting "Pay the fuck attention!" at other drivers back when I worked an office job. Now that I'm a TA, I have to resist yelling it at my students.

    Re "cracker": few white folks understand what it implies. They are not being compared to a crispy snack; they are being associated with the man holding the whip (regardless of the actual etymology of the term).

  86. Jack Collins said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    I only recently learned that Brits pronounce twat to rhyme with hat.

    The first time my English ex- heard me pronounce that word, she burst into laughter because she finally got a joke about a horse that she read years before.

  87. Simon Cauchi said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    Reminds me of the explanation Dorothy Parker (I think) is said to have given for not going to the symphony:

    "I've been too fucking busy and vice-versa."

  88. Jason said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

    As further evidence that it modifies the prep. phrase, you (or I, at least) can insert it after the known PP-modifier "right", as in:

    Get right the fuck out of here!

    But, as in most matters of English linguistics, this is all old news; it was documented back in the 70s.

  89. Jason said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    Oops, wanted to add that I'm also curious if it has any (synchronic or diachronic) relation to its post-interrogative usage ("What the fuck?").

  90. Bill Walderman said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 4:51 pm


    I can't vouch for the reliability of this information.

  91. dr pepper said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

    "Abso-bloomin-lutely", anyone?

    Also, George Carlin did a bit on the use of the f word. It even used some linguistic terms.

  92. Simon Cauchi said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

    Thank you for the full text of the John O'Grady poem. I'd previously only seen one line of it, quoted by Nicholas Hudson in the article on "tmesis" in his book Modern Australian Usage. Hudson defines tmesis as "the cleaving of a word and the insertion of some other word in the cleavage". Abso-bloomin-lutely.

  93. Adrig said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    Hmm, whenever I hung out at UCSC's Stevenson coffee shop all they played was Talking Heads. It would have been nice to hear Into the Mystic once in a while.

  94. Mark Liberman said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    On the associated Metafilter thread, a clever comment by dersins:

    "In Russia, the fuck shuts you up."

  95. Don Ulrich said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    So this is where the unemployed english majors hang out. No taste in music but ya know your language.

  96. mollymooly said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    Perhaps I should elaborate on my previous "honky/cracker" post. Both words have been used by African Americans as racial epithets for white Americans. However, British usage of the words differs. Whereas "honky" might in the 70s have been misinterpreted by an English singer as a quality to be proud of, it no longer is. OTOH, "cracker" retains a distinct positive sense. As well as a general sense of "something excellent", applicable to men, women, inanimate objects, intangible qualities, etc, it has a more specific sense of "babe, foxy lady, fnar, phwoar, hubba-hubba"; it is this latter which I described as sexist.

    In "twat" news, the next UK Prime Minister just found out it's a rude word having said it on live radio. ("Too many twits make a twat"; he mean "tweet" rather than "twit".)

  97. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

    Just to annotate the point in my prior comment about 10 hours ago, the Van Morrison song from which I learned the British/Irish non-smokable sense of "crack" (which *may* relate to the U.S. "cracker" per the link posted but not vouched for by Bill Walderman) was "Coney Island" (originally released 1989), which begins: "Coming down from Downpatrick / Stopping off at St. John's Point / Out all day birdwatching / And the crack was good . . ." Some internet versions of the lyrics have the "craic" spelling, but the inner sleeve of the Avalon Sunset LP, at least in the pressing/edition found on my shelf, has "crack."

  98. D.O. said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

    That's incredible. This thread is past a 100 comments mark. Is it a LL record? What a deep topic!

  99. Noetica said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

    That's incredible. This thread is past a 100 comments mark. Is it a LL record? What a deep topic!

    Past one hundred? ¡Caramba! The mighty will look on this thread and despair. But alas, profanity and prolixity do not necessary combine to profundity: sometimes they subtract to inanity.

    I only recently learned that Brits pronounce twat to rhyme with hat.

    Do they really? I'm surprised. But yes: SOED gives that as the second of two pronunciations, after one that is the same as the only OED, American, and Australian pronunciation. Could be the same sort of spelling pronunciation as we now find for the less familiar element -wort (as if it were wart). The more specific rule that has "-wor-" always pronounced /wə:[r]/ is overcome by the more general rule for "-or-".

    Heh! See this in OED, at "twat":

    Erroneously used (after quot. 1660) by Browning Pippa Passes iv. ii. 96 under the impression that it denoted some part of a nun's attire.

    And the 1660 citation, which gives historical evidence for pronunciation:

    1660 Vanity of Vanities 50 They talk't of his having a Cardinalls Hat, They'd send him as soon an Old Nuns Twat.

    (Now that we speak of "vanity of vanities", at our comparatively modestly proportioned Languagehat thread. See link, above.)

  100. Tom said,

    July 29, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

    About the interrogative usage of the fuck, what is the rule about which "w words" admit this treatment and in what contexts? My impression is that the rule, whatever it is, applies to a class including the following:

    the fuck
    the hell
    in (the) hell
    the devil
    in tarnation
    (in damnation ?)
    in Sam Hill
    in God's name
    in the world
    on God's green Earth
    in the goddam name of all that is fucking holy

    In each of the following sentences the intromission of the fuck (or any other of these) after the w-word is grammatical:

    Who [ ] gives a shit about your musical taste or fucking lack of it?
    Who [ ] are you trying to impress, anyway?
    Where [ ] were you when they gave out ears?
    When [ ] did you become a music critic, for chrissake?
    Why [ ] should we give a flying fuck what you think about it?
    What [ ] is your goddam problem?

    I think (although it sounds better with "the —" than with "in —" that it is also grammatical to do this to:

    What [ ] kind of fucked-up person are you?

    And it works with non-question transforms of the above, such as

    I don't know who [the fuck] gives a shit about your musical taste or fucking lack of it.

    One prohibition is that you can't do it twice:

    *What the fuck in the world is your goddam problem?
    *What in the world the fuck is your goddam problem?

    I'm not so sure that you can say

    *Whom the devil are you trying to impress, anyway?

    And I'm pretty sure you can't say

    *Which the fuck one of his songs would you pay the most not to hear?

    "Whether" seems like an honorary w-word; even though it can't start a question, it can do the "I don't know w-…" thing. But I don't think I can say

    *I don't know whether the fuck to laugh or cry.

  101. questcequelefuck said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 12:05 am

    How about these constructions, which I don't remember from the school playground, but have become rather common in the last 5 or so years (at least in my memory):

    Fucking, it better not rain today!

    It always struck me as badly-formed cursing. I could see:

    "Hell, it better not rain today!"

    or even

    "Fucking-A, it better not rain today!"

    But can't think of another "-ing" word that would make sense.


  102. frode said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 1:47 am

    Of course, it should be, "In SOVIET Russia, the fuck shuts you up." But LOLSoviet jokes have become a bit controversial on MetaFilter.

  103. Nigel said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 2:17 am

    What kind of British rock musician could GP have been not to be able to stand Van Morrison?

    I not going to read all above to confirm that no one else has mentioned this, but without Van Morrison there would have been a lot fewer American garage bands 1964. If you knew 3 open chords (E, D, and A), you could play Gloria, gets some gigs, and be a rock musician with all the rewards accruing thereto. Van Morrison's first (Baby Please Don't Go), and next (Here Comes the Night) were also pretty essential.

    That was when he was in the Them, obviously. I agree with GP that Van Morrison lost a lot of his appeal when he lit out on his own.

  104. Janice Huth Byer said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 5:34 am

    Anon (above) suggests, in situations where the f-bomb would be inappropriate, a more or less felicitous substitute is the word, "hell". Heck, if hell doesn't serve , there's always "heck". WTF on Prozac is "What the heck".

  105. Janice Huth Byer said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 6:44 am

    Illustrating the American meaning of "cracker" is the short video clip below of Chris Rock performing his now classic comedy routine, "Cracker, Ass, Cracker". That starts at 3:38, but the whole 7 minutes is effing funny.


  106. Ginger Yellow said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:17 am

    Re: infixing, I've always been very fond of Chris Morris's "Where's your self re-cocking-spect?" from Brass Eye.

  107. Ken Brown said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    I hate to seem ignorant. But I am.

    If "twat" doesn't rhyme with "hat", what does it rhyme with? "hate"? "haught"? "heart"? "hot"?

    It's another word with different force over here. Only a mild insult, down there with "twit" and "prat".

  108. language hat said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:38 am

    If "twat" doesn't rhyme with "hat", what does it rhyme with?

    In the U.S., it has the vowel /a/ (as opposed to the /æ/ of "hat"), so presumably for you it would rhyme with "heart." For me it rhymes with "hot," but of course you have a completely different vowel in that word.

  109. language hat said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:41 am

    What kind of British rock musician could GP have been not to be able to stand Van Morrison?

    You must not hang out with many musicians. In my experience, musicians can't stand other musicians in ways that do not correlate with the can't-standings of non-musicians. (I imagine if you spent enough time around Van Morrison you'd discover that he can't stand all sorts of musicians you and I think are great. That does not mean he has no taste, it means he's a musician.)

  110. Doug said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:50 am

    Many many years ago, I recall seeing a comedy bit on the Playboy channel that dealt with the incredible flexibility of the word 'fuck' and how it may become any part of speech. Quite a funny bit; guy wearing the smoking robe, pipe, slippers, big book, formal library, genteel speech…

    Oh, and I was only reading the articles…

  111. Dave said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:52 am

    Whatever !!!! Honky Woman. Elkie Brooks has a great voice. !!!!!

  112. Tom said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 8:54 am

    Fucking, it better not rain today!

    It always struck me as badly-formed cursing. I could see:

    "Hell, it better not rain today!"

    or even

    "Fucking-A, it better not rain today!"

    The aboves seem ill-formed to me, too.

    "Fuck, it better not rain." sounds fine. But couldn't you also write that as "Fuck! It better not rain." (Here "fuck" is an interjection like your "hell".)

    I always thought "Fuckin-A" (which I didn't learn in the schoolyard but caught up with when other people brought it from school to college) was a complete sentence, a contracted form of "You bet your fuckin' ass!"

  113. MikeyC said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 10:09 am

    A bit like "Blow me!", Spell Me Jeff?

  114. Tom said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 11:38 am


    Long live the king

    Isn't this a subjunctive, rather than "3rd person imperative"?

  115. Ellen K. said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    I'm from the middle of the USA and twat rhyming with hot is new to me.

  116. empty said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

    Uh-oh, there are two Toms here, so I'll switch to calling myself empty or ø as I have at Language Hat.

  117. fiddler said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    Told that a guy was thinking of asking her out, my friend replied incredulously, "As fucking if!"

  118. Liz said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

    Wouldn't it simply be an interjections: "a part of speech that usually has no grammatical connection with the rest of the sentence and simply expresses emotion on the part of the speaker"

  119. Lance Walton said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 4:27 pm

    For a linguistically unchallenging, but maxifuckimum density phrase, how about 'Fuck fucking fuck fuckers'. as in "[We should] fuck [those] fucking [people who are] fuckers of [people who are] fucks".

    We could also insert some punctuation to convey some different meanings:

    1. 'Fuck! Fucking fuck fuckers.' – 'Oh dear! We are being overrun by fucking people who are fuckers of people who I consider to be fucks'
    2. 'Fuck fucking, fuck fuckers' – 'Never mind about sexual intercourse, those of you who engage in congress with those I hold in low regard.'

  120. language hat said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

    I'm from the middle of the USA and twat rhyming with hot is new to me.

    Really? Do you rhyme it with "hat"? I could have sworn that was nonexistent in the U.S., but you learn something every day.

  121. Janice Huth Byer said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

    I've only heard "twat" in California, where it rhymes with "hot".

    Britons seem to wield it as an insult, most often aimed at men, which initially surprised me. In the States, it's a rarely used euphemism, slightly vulgar, never hurled.

  122. Tim said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    I'm from "the middle of the USA", as well, and, to me, it's /twæt/. But, I'm pretty sure I picked it up from British TV shows, or something. On the rare occasions that I've heard someone local use the term, it was /twat/. But, as mentioned, the meaning usually isn't the same, either.

  123. Bill Walderman said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

    A question about syntax that goes back to my earlier question: doesn't this exuberant proliferation of inventive colloquialisms suggest that the f-word in its non-literal manifestations isn't really subject to analysis under the rules of English syntax? Isn't it more like a bark or a grunt?

  124. ø said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

    We have seen that the fuck is subject to rules. You can put it before certain prepositional phrases as in

    Get the fuck out of here.

    And you can stick into many questions, as in

    What the fuck is your problem.

    But you can't just stick it in lots of other places, like

    *Give me the fuck my money.
    *It doesn't the fuck belong to you.

    But maybe fucking is not so rule-bound?

  125. John said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 8:12 am

    "Fucking" seems just as rule-bound. E.g.:

    1. Give me my fucking money.

    2. *Give me fucking my money.

    Generalizing, it seems that when "fucking" modifies an NP, there is a slot for it right after the determiner, but it can't go right before a determiner.

    Also, it seems that it can't modify prepositions, for some reason:

    3. Fucking Sally gave it to me.

    4. *Fucking she gave it to me.

    5. *She gave fucking it to me.

    6. *She gave it to fucking me.

    I actually think it's a pretty interesting, nontrivial problem to figure out what are the rules governing where one can place "fucking" into an English sentence. (Wouldn't this be a great project for a Linguistics 101 course?)

  126. John said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 8:14 am

    ^^ sorry, by "prepositions" I meant "pronouns," of course…

  127. Breffni said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    In Irish English, "to fuck" is a common variant of "the fuck" – "Shut to fuck up." And it's more positionally mobile: "Shut up to fuck", "I wished I could soar out of there to fuck" (not meaning "in order to…").

    Van, incidentally, may consider it a standard part of his act to tell the audience to shut the fuck up, if this transcript (from a concert in San Francisco 1992) is accurate.

  128. Another Liz said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 10:20 am

    I'm in the eastern US, and I've heard "twat" hurled as an insult. As in, "Go fucking die in a fire, you fucking twat."

  129. DaiKiwi said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 11:02 am

    John said…
    6. *She gave it to fucking me.

    That works in New Zealand english.

    Alternatives might be 'goddamned' or 'bloody', but not most other expletives. Works as an intensifier on 'me'?. Often heard as a complaint or even a whine, although it can be said in a positive, assertive or even awed tone.

    For sure, not the same as "she fucking gave it to me", which has several implied meanings only one of which is sexual (which relies on 'gave' not 'fucking', though gave may mean fucking in that particular case)

  130. Sarra said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 11:29 am

    DaiKiwi said…

    6. *She gave it to fucking me.

    That works in New Zealand english.

    Works for me too (BrE), as does 4. *Fucking she gave it to me. – but you have to stress the pronoun that comes after the fucking.

    Important point: the Van Morrison situation is actually ambiguous if you're really good at being disingenuous, e.g.:

    '"That was the fuck they shut up" or, for that matter, "That was the dumb fuck they shut up." The "fuck" just isn't inert any more.'

    This isn't the most straightforward way to rearrange "fucking shut the fuck up". What it is more likely to be is a rearrangement of "shut THAT fucking fuck up" (emphasis mine).

    What matters is that "fucking shut the fuck up" would have the same meaning, conventionally, in a one-to-one conversation (me and you) as in a one-to-many conversation (Van Morrison to crowd). In the former, there's no "that fuck" to shut up, not even if you try really hard to pretend that "that fuck" refers to your conversant – it's just not straightforward syntax.

    In short, you're treating a different sentence in saying 'that was the fucking fuck they shut up'.

    And PS, I submit that "The fuck it is!" and "Like fuck it is!" may be just about equivalent – there's something to chew on.

  131. Max said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

    "the f-word in its non-literal manifestations isn't really subject to analysis under the rules of English syntax? Isn't it more like a bark or a grunt?"

    Not at all. The point is that there are places where it is ungrammatical (everybody's starred examples — for the uninitiated, a star indicates an example of some kind of "wrongness" or possibly conjecture). This means it obeys some grammar, and the challenge is now to work it out.

  132. Dmajor said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    I can't believe that no one has even mentioned "fuckity", as in "Shut the fuck up, you fuckity fucking fuck!"

    It's also tremendously useful in the traditional hammeral nail-for-thumb substitution situation. "Fuckity fucking FUCK!" has been shown to have analgesic properties.

  133. Linguistic wannabe said,

    July 31, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

    Back when (1930s, I think), writing in Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers has a character say "hellup, the Chilperic's coming!" (or maybe "hellup, the Chilperic!").

    Either way, I understood from context that "hellup" means "shut the hell up." This usage at least has that good a pedigree.

  134. John Cowan said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 12:40 am

    According to the OED, "twat" is [twɒt], so we'd expect [twɑt] (as LH reports, and as my own usage is) in American varieties that unround [ɒ]. Since this sound-change has few exceptions, twat can indeed be expected to rhyme with hot everywhere. If there are people who make it rhyme with hat, I suspect it's a spelling pronunciation.

    The 1660 quotation predates the rounding of [wa] to [wɒ] (as in wall, wash) and the fronting of other short [a] to [æ], so the rhyme of twat and hat was perfect at that time: [twat], [hat]. (No accent of standard English has [a] any longer, except in Eastern New England where it replaces [ɑ:].)

    But when Browning picked up twat from the 1660 quotation, he surely assumed that it was pronounced [twæt], based on the modern pronunciation of hat. Evidently the word had gone so far underground that Browning had never heard it in live use, so he had to infer its pronunciation and meaning from context — both incorrectly.

  135. J said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

    'Crack' is a recent (I'd say < 20 years) loan-word to mainstream British English, from the Gaelic 'craic'.

    In Northern Ireland 'crack' or 'craic' has been widely used by Catholics and Protestants (ironic this, because sectarians reject the Gaelic langauge) to describe a social vibe that is a lot of fun, involves lots of jovial bantering and flirting, and is typically alcohol-fueled — as in 'the crack last night was excellent'.

    'Cracking' (no 'g' pronounced) is used to mean 'excellent'. A woman described as a 'cracker' would be expected to be a bit of a beauty; it is a term of approval.

    'The crack last night was cracking', a phrase that would have every chance of emerging from Van Morrison's mouth, would mean something like 'the fun we had last night was fucking excellent'.

  136. J said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

    Or, 'craic' maybe a loan word from British English to Irish:


  137. Ken Brown said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    J said: "'Crack' is a recent (I'd say < 20 years) loan-word to mainstream British English, from the Gaelic 'craic'."

    No it isn't! Its a recent import into Irish from English. Its been in English for centuries with the meaning of a joke or a smart remark or a clever retort (also as "wisecrack") The extension to banter, pleasant conversation, general good fun is I think moroe recent but it certainly is a lot older than twenty years. It was perfectly normal in that sense in Scotland and the North-East of England in my childhood and I'm over fifty. It might be that it was rare or unknown to most southern English people until they got it off Irish English speakers on TV, but it is clearly an English word to start with.

    John Cowan said: "But when Browning picked up twat from the 1660 quotation, he surely assumed that it was pronounced [twæt], based on the modern pronunciation of hat. Evidently the word had gone so far underground that Browning had never heard it in live use, so he had to infer its pronunciation and meaning from context — both incorrectly."

    That sounds plausible. I don't think the word is productive in British English these days. Just a mild insult, like "prat", whose original meaning has been widely forgotten. I honestly used to think that it was a local variant of "twit"

  138. Terry Collmann said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    Twat certainly rhymes with hat in my variety of English (West London), and I have only ever heard Americans rhyme it with "hot" "trot" or "not". (I'm surprised LH doesn't seem to have been aware of the Robert Browning story, knowing his interest in things headgearish)

    My financial adviser, who was in a Belfast rockband in the 1960s, once turned down a (young and unknown) Van Morrison when he was looking for a lead singer. I have exchanged emails with Geoffrey Pullum. That means GKP has a Van Morrison number of no higher than 3, as a maximum …

  139. Anthony said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    To "beat/scare the hell out of someone" is to perform an amateur exorcsim. It's probably less intense than beating the shit out of someone, but more than scaring the shit out of them, though that might depend on the strength of their inner demons.

  140. Chris said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

    You linguists certainly make a Wordle that puts gangsta rap to shame: http://www.wordle.net/gallery/wrdl/1027692/Linguists_discuss_the_f-word

  141. Lee Daniel Crocker said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 10:17 am

    I tend to agree with Steven Pinker's point that expletives do not necessarily fill grammatical roles even in simple cases where they appear to. For example, "fuck communism" seems to be a simple imperative, but one would not say, for example, "Describe and fuck communism".

  142. Aaron Davies said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 11:06 am

    @doug: interesting, i wonder if that's where a very old mp3 (one of the first, i think, to circulate widely) came from? it was a discourse on the flexibility of "fuck", had a classical music soundtrack, and ended with "fuck the fucking fuckers" as an example where forms of "fuck" were almost every word in a sentence.

  143. Aaron Davies said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    @lance walton: your sentence number two parses for me as containing two imperatives. i'd disambiguate it by hyphenating "fuck-fuckers" (a step which is oddly unecessary for the identical words and meaning in sentence 1).

  144. Hyperion said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    I believe that the phase "Fuck, shut the fucking fuck the fucking fuck up!" is almost perfect. Any modification to any word, other than N -Fuck, and it's useless.

  145. Aengus said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

    "neither *Shut the fuck nor *Get the fuck are grammatical with the pleonastic reading of the fuck."

    I'd disagree with that. Perhaps it's an Irish thing, but the phrase "Get the fuck!" is quite common. Have never seen it disected, but I imagine there's simply a gap at the end of the phrase, "out" or "away" or whatnot.

  146. Mantonat said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

    I was recently running late to meet a friend, so he texted me the message "fuck you at?" as a contraction for "Where the fuck you at?" – both being colorful ways of asking "Where are you?"

  147. Daniel Melia said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

    Regardless of how one feels about J. Morrison, how about treating "shut up" as a verb with a separable suffix (as in "he must be kept an eye on" -Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night) akin to German, say, "ausflippen" which is in variation with "flippen . . . aus". (As in "Franz got Guitar Hero and ausgeflipt," vs. Franz flipt with Guitar Hero aus." [apol. to German speakers.]) We can't say "upshut" in English, but we have lots of verbs that behave as do German ones (and, of course, earlier Indo-european ones).

  148. Sarra said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

    'According to the OED, "twat" is [twɒt]'

    Goodness, you're right. That's loopy (i.e. true, but completely outdated) – standard BrE has [twæt] and I don't know a current dialect that's any different.

  149. Hyperion said,

    August 4, 2009 @ 12:07 am

    Actually Mantonat….

    "Get the fuck" is fine on it's own. As is "Get the fucking fuck" :)

  150. brdy said,

    August 4, 2009 @ 2:34 am

    I would argue that "up" is a phrasal verb in that context. I am going to print this out so I can ask my linguistics professor about it tomorrow.

    (Notice the parallel: "print out" is much like "shut up")

  151. Paul said,

    August 4, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    British/Irish word crack?

    Hello? An American talking through his crack (quelle surprise)

    English: Let's crack on to the pub then shall we?
    Irish: There'll be great craic in the pub.

    crack on: keep going
    craic: fun, entertainment etc.

  152. Hyperion said,

    August 4, 2009 @ 6:57 am


  153. Ken Brown said,

    August 4, 2009 @ 10:59 am

    Maybe in America Paul, but in England or Scotland you can say "great crack in the pub", and it would be a lot more common than "crack on to the pub"

    The "craic" spelling is a bit silly outside written Irish (& even there "crac" might be better). Its as if I called the capital city of Britain "Londra". You'd know where I meant but it woud be an odd and unneccessary thing to do.

  154. ian said,

    August 4, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

    A NY / NJ classic "Fuck you, you fucking fuck."

  155. Ben Hemmens said,

    August 5, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

    upon which the fan said to his friend:

    see that ye fuckbag, the cunt fuckin spoke to me! what the fuck's it fuckin like? i mean like van. fuckin. morrison. spoke. to. me. oh fuckin yes. ah don't fuckin believe it. fuckin magic. thats just pure dead fuckin brilliant. eh?

  156. chris gow said,

    August 5, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

    In one of Amy Winehouse's songs she seems to use the word fuckery, the actual line being "what sort of fuckery is this". It seems to me a novel and useful word, but then again i may have misheard! I suspect many a neologism arises out of mishearing.
    There is a fine Australian phrase "fuckin bloody"; mainly used as a stand alone expression of somewhat disturbed surprise. As in:
    "For fuck's sake, the fuckin dingo ate my fuckin baby"
    "Fuckin bloody, not afuckingain"

  157. Anton Throckmorton said,

    August 5, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    What about 'fuck me dead!'?

  158. Spencer B said,

    August 7, 2009 @ 5:35 am

    I have to admit to being partial to this word and many of its permutations, so I am surprised that no-one has yet commented on its amazing power to convey the meaning of a sentence even after all the other words have been stripped away.

    MAN arrives at his refrigerator after hours of hard toil under the burning sun. He opens to the door to reveal a hole where the can of cold beer was earlier.

    MAN: "The fuck?"
    ("Where the fuck is my fucking beer?")

    MAN: "The fuck!"
    ("That fucker has stolen my fucking beer for the last fucking time, I'm going to fucking twat the fucker!")

    Which, interestingly reveals that 'to twat' has an entirely different meaning to 'you twat'. In Liverpool, the seething interface of Irish and English culture, twat always rhymes with 'hat' but unfortunately crack has recently taken on its more modern, American usage.

  159. Nick T said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    I'm late. I would submit Martin Scorcese's "Casino" should be required viewing for fuck aficionados :


  160. Scottish Yorkie said,

    August 26, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    Anton Throckmorton Said: 'What about Fuck me dead!'? Twenty years ago the favourite phrase of a Kiwi of my acquantance was 'Fuck me dead said foreskin Fred!' when he was mildly surprised. It has since been one of my favourite phrases.

    Also, many years ago (thirty-odd) when I was a young deck cadet, I memorably heard the Pakistani pump man describing a tank-cleaning machine that he couldn't mend as 'The fucking fuck won't fuck!'. I don't know whether this adds anything to the debate………….

  161. brotzel said,

    August 31, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    this is one big fuck-off thread

  162. John said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    A question about syntax that goes back to my earlier question: doesn't this exuberant proliferation of inventive colloquialisms suggest that the f-word in its non-literal manifestations isn't really subject to analysis under the rules of English syntax? Isn't it more like a bark or a grunt?

  163. Janus said,

    March 12, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

    Fuckin’ nine fuckin’ months late to the fuckin’ game, but fuck, this fuckin’ post/thread is bloody fan-fuckin’-tastic. The warped non-Churchill quote almost had me in tears.

    Ken Brown wrote:The "craic" spelling is a bit silly outside written Irish (& even there "crac" might be better).

    How do you figure crac might be better in Irish, too? I’ve never heard a native speaker pronounce it with a broad c, always slender.

    And the derived adjective, craiceáilte, is definitely an Irish innovation (both in form and meaning) and pronounced with a slender c.

  164. Ryan said,

    November 13, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    "the fuck" and "the hell" are functioning as prepositions, as a strange continuation of English's odd custom of stacking prepositions to add intensity.

    For example:
    Get up out of here. *up is repetitive but intensifying
    Come on down. *on is repetitive but intensifying
    Shut on up. *on
    Come on out from in between them. *on

    Get (up/the fuck) out of here.
    Come (on/the fuck) down.
    Shut (on/the fuck) up.

    Obviously, "the fuck" must come first in a string of prepositions.

    I came the fuck on down.
    NOT *I came on the fuck down.

  165. isomorphismes said,

    April 9, 2013 @ 2:55 am

    Sorry; what are "both senses of that phrase"?

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