Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cuss-Free Week?

Didn't they get the news? It's the week to celebrate cuss words, not prevent them from roaming free!

California's government should be spending their time worrying about more important matters than regulating people's language.

The "C-Word"

“What is the difference between a circus and a strip club? The circus has a bunch of cunning stunts.” This spoonerism creates a word play just like the bumper sticker “Buck Fush.” Although, I have to admit this one is cleverer because “fush” isn’t even a word.

But what, exactly, does the “c-word” mean? Here are a few theories:
1. A reference to female genitalia
2. Unpleasant or stupid person
3. A disparaging term for a woman
4. A despicable man
5. A term of endearment

When used with a positive qualifier (such as “good”) it can take on a positive connotation in New Zealand or Australia.

Feminists reclaim the word

As an abusive term, the “c-word” implies that a woman’s primary usefulness is as a sexual object. Many feminists have tried to reclaim the word the same way the LGBT community has reclaimed “queer.”

Inga Muscio’s book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence claims that
“only by reconnecting with a love for their genitalia can women achieve personal and political power.”
Literary references

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales uses the word as a non-offensive term, closely associated with “quaint.”

Shakespeare used wordplay to suggest the then-offensive word with the phrase “country matters” in Hamlet.

A few CANOEs

A "cuntline" is the space between casks stored side by side on a ship, and a "cunt splice" refers to a type of rigging.

Okay, I will finally type it out. Cunt.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fornicating Under Consent of the King

Although acronymic origins for words are rare, many people insist that the word “fuck” was derived from one of two acronyms: Fornication Under Consent of the King or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

The story behind the first is that married couples were required to obtain the king’s permission to engage in intercourse. Beyond the fact that this never happened, the original definition of “fornication” betrays this theory. Traditionally, “fornication” did not refer to sex within the context of marriage.

As far as the other acronym is concerned, it is unlikely that prisoners would be labeled as such, if for nothing else the fact that the word “for” was not usually used to mark crimes in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, a wrongdoer in the stocks might be sentenced to wear a sign that says “stealing,” not “for stealing.”

The “f-word,” which is very versatile, is usually used in relation to sex, as an insult, or to express distress, frustration, pain, and almost any other emotion you can think of. It is also a word that lies at the heart of the Free Speech debate, so it tends to polarize public opinion.

The actual origins of the word are much less exciting than the false acronyms. With its earliest usage in 1503, the word “fuck” comes from the Dutch “fokken” (to breed, as in cattle), from Swedish dialect “fokka” (to copulate) or “focca” (to strike, push), and Norwegian dialect “fukka” (to copulate).

Steven Anderson’s 2005 documentary “Fuck” explores the word’s origins and why it offends. But watch out: they use the “f-word” a whopping 824 times in this film. With the exclusion of pornographic films, the next runner up is “Nil by Mouth” (1997) with a mere 470 uses.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pissing the night away

One-hit wonder Chumbawamba made “pissing the night away” popular with their song “I get knocked down” in 1997. A rallying cry for good drunks everywhere, the song used the word “pissing” with a dual meaning. They referred to the act of urination (caused by drinking too much) and the more British definition of “piss” (meaning an alcoholic beverage of poor quality).

The word “piss” is still considered offensive by some, but not many of the population. Along with these two meanings, it can also refer to urine itself or the act of discharging some substance (such as blood) in the urine.

Originating in the 14th Century, the word is derived from the Middle English "pissen" from Anglo-French "pisser", from Vulgar Latin "pissiare".

Monday, February 22, 2010

It Hits the Fan (not safe for work...or small children)

The first of the seven dirty words really hits the fan. Used in a single South Park episode an astounding 162 times, the word “shit” has multiple uses and meanings.

The history of the word begins in Old English with scite (dung), scitte (diarrhea) and scitan (to defecate). It then transformed into the Middle English schitte, schyt, and shiten. A false etymology claims that the word originated as an acronym for Ship High in Transit, meaning that manure must be stored high above the water line when transported by ship. (That’s bullshit!)

The word “shit” is used in many ways:
1. As a vague noun: Clean up your shit.
2. To express surprise: Holy shit!
3. To warn of trouble: You are in deep shit, mister!
4. To show displeasure: This burger tastes like shit.
5. To establish dominance: Eat shit and die, motherfucker!
6. As a shortened version of bullshit: No shit!
7. To create emphasis: I was so shit-scared.
8. To refer to drug/alcohol usage: He got shitfaced.
9. As a verb: He shit.

On television, this word now makes a regular appearance on cable stations. You can also hear it on satellite radio. These two arenas of entertainment are not regulated by the FCC.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seven Dirty Words

Comedian George Carlin drew up a list of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” in 1972, and was subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed the bit at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI. According to FCC guidelines, the words he spoke were primarily used “to describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs.” Apparently, these things make us uncomfortable.

But this was a long time ago, wasn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, not really. Standards have changed and what is considered “indecent” has definitely shifted, but there are still many words which invoke such strong connotations that they cannot be used in public. At least not if you want to be considered an upstanding citizen.

The words on Carlin’s list were as follows:
1. Shit
2. Piss
3. Fuck
4. Cunt
5. Cocksucker
6. Motherfucker
7. Tits

In later performances, he added the words “fart”, “turd” and “twat”.

I will examine each of these words – both their meanings and common usages – for your seedier side to enjoy. And perhaps to shock my mother, also, but that’s beside the point.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Super Cali Fragil Istic Expi Ali Do Cious!

Introduced to most of us by Mary Poppins, this nonsensical word is absolutely irresistible: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

I remember in grade school, we could make our own spelling list if we aced the early spelling test given at the beginning of the week. I would find the most bizarre words to put on my list to be tested on at the end of the week. One week, I choose “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and my classmates thought I was crazy.

I find it surprising that my beloved Mary Poppins (and her creators of course) were not the founders of the word. In fact, the word was never even used in the books upon which the Mary Poppins film is based. After the release of the movie, there was also a lawsuit filed by Barney Young and Gloria Parker, who had written a song in 1949 entitled "Supercalafajaistickespeealadojus" and had shared the song with Disney in 1951.

They lost the case, though, because documents were produced indicating that several variants of the word had been used prior to 1949. I couldn’t find any details about these examples, however. Interesting note: the judge in this case refused to keep writing out and saying the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” because it was so obnoxiously long. He repeatedly referred to it as “the word.”

What does the word mean? Well, Mary Poppins suggests that it is a word to say when you have nothing to say, a word that will also make you sound smart. Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote the Disney song define it as follows: “super” (above), “cali” (beauty), “fragilistic” (delicate), “expiali” (to atone), and “docious” (educable). Over all, it would mean “atoning for educability through delicate beauty,” which is basically nonsensical anyway.

The rather satirical writers of Maxim magazine would have you believe that it is a phrase coined by Scottish miners who wanted to ask prostitutes for “the works.” This usage is undoubtedly false, but it does make for an interesting interpretation for some of the lyrics in the Disney song. For example:
“But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl's my wife!”