Swearing: US vs. UK.

This BBC.com piece by Erin Moore is an extract from her new book That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms and What Our English Says About Us; both it and a Wordorigins.org thread suggest that the book is largely ignorant tosh, like most books on language by non-linguists, but I’m posting about it for the following delightful paragraph:

Celia Walden, an English woman who moved to Los Angeles, described for the Telegraph her realisation that Americans “don’t use expletives as much as we do.” She found it refreshing (“I haven’t been cursed at in nearly a year”) and noted that her “new sensitivity” to swearing might be related to having become a mother to a child whom she’d rather “didn’t end up like the tiny mite I once saw fall out of his pushchair in Shepherd’s Bush, look accusingly up at his mother, and calmly enunciate the words: ‘Bloody hell’. I still wonder whether those were that poor child’s first words.”

After that she quotes a wonderful Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie sketch “based on the idea that if the BBC wouldn’t let them swear on the air, they’d simply make up their own curse words”; I recommend it as well. (Thanks, Eric!)

Comments

  1. I suspect there is a class-based aspect to swearing. All those nasty swear words sound somewhat ‘lower class’. Graduating to the more genteel ways of the middle class requires you to water down your language, at least a bit.

    My impression of Americans (probably wrong as usual) is that middle class mores have a stronger hold on values. Plus the influence of religion.

  2. Well, we do at least have a fondndess for identifying as middle class. Nowadays the dominant way of conceiving of class in American discourse is a simple upper-middle-poor one, with the middle taking in all but the extremes – so I think the bourgeois connotations of “middle class” as used in Britain would be largely lost on people here. (“Upper middle class” would be our closest equivalent.) Identification with the working class used to be popular – for example, my grandfather, a Depression kid who later made good money as a unionized machinist, definitely saw himself as working class, not middle – but it seems to have become marginal now.

    As for the social connotations of swearing, I think there are multiple factors at play. In a within-region Northeastern context there’s surely at least a modest perceptual association of swearing with lower social status, but in a national context I think there’s also an association of not-swearing with conservative, religious rural folk – as shown by the distribution of pseudo-swears like “gosh” and “darn” in those Twitter maps. For example I’d expect a well-to-do Bostonian or New Yorker to swear a lot more than a Southern or Midwestern farmer.

  3. ə de vivre says:

    Celia Walden, an English woman who moved to Los Angeles, described for the Telegraph her realisation that Americans “don’t use expletives as much as we do.”

    I call bullshit. Does anyone know if anyone has seriously looked at the question of whether some societies curse more than others? If group X uses the word “fuck” in situations with a vulgarity rating between 4 and 10, but group Y divides that same swear-space between “frick” for vulgarity ratings 4-7 and reserves fuck for the more extreme cases of 8-10, does one group swear more than the other or do they just divide up their swear-spectrum differently? Or could this be related to Americans’ stereotypical euphemistic enthusiasm? (“awesome” means “acceptable”, “good” means “not good”)

    My impression of Americans (probably wrong as usual) is that middle class mores have a stronger hold on values. Plus the influence of religion.

    I’m not so sure. For one thing I don’t think the connection between the middle class and respectability is nearly as strong in the US as it is in the UK. I also suspect that class ideology is considerably more pluricentric in the US. That is, though there’s certainly an overriding national narrative about “equality” and “the middle class”, no single US city dominates the center of the center-periphery relationship in the US the same way that London does in the UK. Growing up on the West Coast of the US, the idea of old money or the nouveau-riche was as foreign to me as knights in shining armour (which isn’t to say there isn’t any class prejudice on the West Coast, just that it plays out differently). But that’s definitely not the case elsewhere in the country. Or maybe I’m just reacting according to my own internalized regional/class identity’s compulsion to differentiate myself from those damn highfalutin’ aristocrats in the UK and New England.

    Re: permutations on taboo words to get past censors. If you’ve got Netflix, the new series With Bob and David (of Mr. Show fame) has a sketch where they progressively rearrange the syllables in the phrase “a picture of the prophet Muhammad” to placate a risk-averse network executive.

  4. I would have thought good meaning not good is more English than American. Quite good, of course, means dreadful.

  5. This excellent, though lengthy, article proposes a revision of how we look at the class system in the U.S. (and by extension other parts of the First World). There are three ladders, which he calls Labor, Elite, and Gentry (educated rather than landed), each with four steps from apprentice to maximum. The ladders are somewhat offset, so that an L2 (next to the top step of the Labor ladder) makes about the same amount as a G4 (apprentice member of the gentry). There is also the Underclass, who are at the bottom of the system and not on any ladder.

    Social mobility, Michael says, is common on a specific ladder, but quite rare between ladders, because their values differ drastically.

  6. I’ve been told that ‘That’s special’ is the ultimate opprobrium in genteel US speech.

    Danish is the other way around. If you tell your waiter that the wine is not all bad, he will take it as approval. Unless you stress ‘all’, in which case you’re saying that you’d drink it, but only if it was the last bottle in the house.

  7. > I call bullshit

    Having lived in both countries, I agree entirely with Ms. Walden. There are circumstances in which a British person will avoid swearing, but they are much more restricted than in the US.

    > Does anyone know if anyone has seriously looked at the question of whether some societies curse more than others?

    It seems unlikely a priori that all societies even have a concept of swear words.

  8. To throw a little improvised data at the problem:

    In spoken British speech as represented by the BNC, the frequency of “fucking” is 217 per million. (http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/)

    In spoken American as represented by COCA, it is 0.4 per million. (http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/)

    That’s actually such a huge difference, and such a low figure in COCA’s case, it makes me question the result. But it definitely points in the expected direction.

  9. I call bullshit.

    No, based on my experience it’s true that Brits swear (and drink) more. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is, of course, in the ear of the behearer.

  10. But I have to say, not only does it depend on what social circles you are frequenting in each culture (and we may all have a range of friends in more than one circle) but also how intimate you are in each conversational setting, and WHO ELSE IS THERE. Many of my friends (and I’m 64) aren’t going to swear in a social context where their parents or aunties (or in some cases, children [not so much] or children’s friends [hmmm], children’s friends’ parents…are present. It takes time to build even anecdotal references. Lots of time.
    One on one, most of us are effing and blinding left and right, with about the frequency of commas; but give us a meeting with friends of friends, potential business partners…every single instance is different.

  11. All very true, of course.

  12. ə de vivre says:

    Lameen:
    To throw a little improvised data at the problem…

    I am of course open to being proven wrong, we’re not animals here after all 🙂

    With respect to the corpora, the spoken part of the CCAE is composed of “Transcripts of unscripted conversation from more than 150 different TV and radio programs”, unlikely to have much swearing. The only texts that might not be artificially selected against taboo words are the movie scripts. The BNC on the other hand seems to have more material that wouldn’t be censored for broadcast standards. They’re a little less specific in their descriptions of the specific sub-corpora, but I imagine “unpublished letters and memoranda” and “orthographic transcriptions of unscripted informal conversations” would be more sweary than anything in the CCAE.

    It seems unlikely a priori that all societies even have a concept of swear words.
    You’re probably right, I should have been more specific. My intended question was more along the lines of “for societies with vulgarity-related taboo words, can you quantify their frequency with respect to different social situations in order to test a claim like ‘Americans “don’t use expletives as much as [the British] do.”‘? Let’s say in some hypothetical corpus, Brits used the word “fuck” 100 times and “frick” 0, while Americans used “fuck” 60 times and “frick” 40. Do Americans swear less than Brits, or do they just divide up their vulgarity spectrum into frick-appropriate and fuck-appropriate domains? To take a more extreme example, I’ve never heard someone from France say “tabernacle” (except on the off chance I was discussing the finer points of Catholic ritual or Mormon choirs), but that doesn’t mean that the Québécois swear some order of magnitude more than the French.

    I think what I was trying to get at is the the question of the relationship between individual swear-word frequencies and larger cultural attitudes about the power of taboo words. My scepticism was initially provoked by what I perceived in the article linked to as the implication that the two are straightforwardly related.

    Hat:
    No, based on my experience it’s true that Brits swear (and drink) more.

    Wikipedia agrees with you on the second count. The WTO statistics also show that the US and Canada’s alcohol consumption heavily weighted towards beer (50 and 51% respectively compared to the UK’s 37%), I wonder if that’s an effect of liquor taxes.

  13. Stefan Holm says:

    Couldn’t the US-British differences be explained by (1) the fact that the US is an immigrant country, into where swearwords of all possible origins have arrived and (2) Britain is one of the most secular countries on earth while the US is the maybe most religious one in the western world?

    As for us, the Swedes, we have traditionally used a million billion zillion denominations of the devil and the place where he is supposed to reside as swearwords. We have also used words for God, Jesus Christ and where they are supposed to dwell. On the other hand have sexually related things been let out of harsh language (we have no corresponding term to ‘fuck you’). The body parts just behind our genitalia and what they produce have though always figured in our ‘unspeakable’ language.

    This has however changed with immigration (some 20 percent of modern Swedes have a recent foreign ancestry). In schoolyards today it’s sad to say common language to call little girls ‘cunts’ or crying out ‘I,m gonna fuck your mother’s ass’. Feminist society has of cousre gone mad över this and I must say (I am as Catanea, 64 years old), that this is in my taste well over the limit. But I guess I have to get used to it…

    While I’m at it – does anybody know, how ‘bloody’ became a swearword in English? The Swedish cognate, ‘blodig’ is a perfectly neutral word?

  14. Oddly enough, I too am 64 years old.

  15. does anybody know, how ‘bloody’ became a swearword in English?

    There are a thousand theories, from a contracted form of by our Lady to the metaphor drunk as a blood (= drunk as a lord, very drunk indeed), but no good evidence. It is unknown in AmE, where the older expression God damned traditionally served much the same purpose. English soldiers were called goddams in France during the Hundred Years’ War, but the phrase is archaic or a foreignism in the UK today — I think.

    I am a mere baby of 57.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    “based on the idea that if the BBC wouldn’t let them swear on the air, they’d simply make up their own curse words”

    Interestingly, skank has not one but three cromulent meanings according to Urban Dictionary. (I wonder if one of them is made up, though.)

    This excellent, though lengthy, article proposes a revision of how we look at the class system in the U.S. (and by extension other parts of the First World).

    …Suddenly I understand America.

    OK, that’s exaggerated, but the article puts many things into words that I had only vaguely guessed at. I particularly like the comparison of US inland air travel to the Soviet Union.

  17. From S.M. Stirling’s On the Oceans of Eternity, just after Odikweos/Odysseus has figured out that the Eagle People (originally from Nantucket) are also from the late 20th century:

    He poured wine, watered it, and spilled a few drops in libation. “And I swiftly saw that these were men as other men — weak and stupid men, many of them. Some of them were wicked men — and a wicked woman — in ways cursed by the Gods. Even Walkheear… [William Walker, and his name is not a coincidence] yes, a great fighting-man — and of a cunning that might seem divine. But still a man, as men are.”

    “Perhaps not as clever as you think,” Arnstein said. At Odikweos’s raised brows: “Men gather more than arts [which gave Odysseus his first clue about the nature of the Eagle People].” He turned his beard toward the copper smoke-hood for a moment. “They also gather the memory of tricks and stratagems of war and kingcraft. Especially in lands where everything is preserved in writing.”

    “Ahh,” Odikweos said, nodding. “That puts in words a thought long stirring in my mind.”

    Later, Arnstein (a professor of Classical Greek originally) renders parts of the Odyssey into pre-Homeric Greek in order to let Odikweos know just how much Walker (now King of Men after Agamemnon’s suicide) has stolen from him:

    “So, it is given to me to know how the men of years to come will think of me… three thousand years, you say?”

    “Five hundred years from this night, until that poem is written down. Near three thousand more to my time.”

    The Achaean shook his head. “That is a number the mouth can say, but the heart cannot grasp. And my deeds will still be known! Or at least a ghost of them will be known… or my deeds and name would have been known, if things had gone forward as they did in the past your age remembers.”

    Brief murderous rage lit his craggy features: “And this Walker has robbed me of!”

    He sat silent, thinking, before he went on: “And much of what Walker knows is the fruit of my people’s minds and hands?”

    “All the beginnings of it.” He’d glossed over the Dark Age that had lain between this time and the glories of the Classical period. “The foundations of the house my people built. Every generation of ours finds fresh inspiration in it.”

    “And all that Walker has taken from us,” Odikweos said. “I followed him for wealth, and power-and because I thought he would make our land great with his outland knowledge.”

    “You… might say he’s done some of that,” Arnstein said cautiously.

    Odikweos shook his head violently. The fire in the great round hearth had died down; the light of the embers ran blood-red over his features and brought out reddish highlights in his grizzled black hair.

    “Not so. He has made this a land of slaves — and slaves of us free Achaeans, even we nobles. What is slavery, if not to live in fear of another’s wrath, obedient to his will? Do we, even we nobles, not live in fear of his anger, and that of his servants? Even the best among us, the men of breeding, the kalos k’agathos, each must guard his tongue in fear of punishment. Are we not now dependents, needing the King’s favor for the very bread on our tables? At most, we are the stewards of his lands, not the lords of our own. As Zeus takes half a man’s arete, his worth, away in the day of slavery, so have we fallen. The more so as it has happened inch by inch, day by day — the more so still as many do not yet realize what has been done.”

    “Yes, he’s… we say put one over on you.”

    The Greek’s fist closed and came down once on the arm of his chair. “That worst of all. He laughs at us. He stole my glory, and sat laughing behind his hand as he did, mocking me for an ignorant savage!”

    “I don’t think you’re really… real to him.”

    “That does not make it better.”

  18. @ John Cowan I read the Church article; very thought-provoking. But I think the whole scheme is self-defeating: it’s all about class, but at the top there is no class left, just power. In fact throughout Church’s system it might be said that for him class ≈ power. Which is a weird equation, to me at least.

    Any chance ‘bloody’ (as swear word) is cognate with German blöd?

  19. David Marjanović says:

    it might be said that for him class ≈ power. Which is a weird equation, to me at least.

    What’s weird about that? Especially in a place that doesn’t have a traditional aristocracy (though E2 comes close).

    Any chance ‘bloody’ (as swear word) is cognate with German blöd?

    *lightbulb moment*

    …mmmmmm… maybe. Maybe it’s related to this conflation of the cognates of German blass “pale” and blöd, if we assume some folk etymology for the d and maybe some interdialectal borrowing or again folk etymology for the oo.

  20. The earliest recorded use of bloody as an intensifier is from Edinburgh (~ 1540). A certain Janet Bruce (Joneta Brus) is taken to court and fined for defamation, and in particular for calling one Isobel Kerrington ane commoun bluidy huir (~ 1540). According to the OED, it may be a reference to the Whore of Babylon (drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs), which would account for its surprisingly strong taboo value. Bloody drunk also has a long history and represents the earliest use of bloody as an adverbial modifier.

  21. Certain circles of Southern gentility are famous for the devastating insult that only certain species can hear. E.g., “She has such beautiful hands.”

  22. Clue us in, if you would: wherein lies the insult?

  23. Oh, I guess that that’s the only thing about her worth praising.

  24. It’s along the lines of ‘You have to say something positive, or else you’re not polite.’ Many years ago, I had a friend who said things like that– causing falling-down hilarity among people with the same background.

  25. @ David Marjanović

    What’s weird about that? Especially in a place that doesn’t have a traditional aristocracy (though E2 comes close).

    It’s hard to take class as primary (as opposed to epiphenomenal on income, land, or other wealth), which Church does and which I do, since it seems a rather subjective concept. But to me class is dignity, sense of worth, Epicurean in the classical sense, stuff like that. Support: I grew up largely in the US South. There were plenty of people around “of good family” but reduced by circumstance to penury; yet everyone spoke of their “class”, even though not everyone knew their background. Well, no money, no power, for sure, so it seems there can be class without power.

  26. That may be a local phenomenon, though. Outside of the South and maybe the more archaic bits of New England, I suspect that concept is quite foreign to Americans.

  27. I have always assumed that bloody and bleeding were reference’s to the transubstantiation of the communion wine into Christ’s blood, with the further reference to Christ on the cross. Both zounds (God’s wounds) and ‘sblood (God’s blood) are well-known archaic interjections, and then there are ods bodikins (God’s bodkins, a bodkin being a spike), and gadzooks (God’s hooks), being yet more blasphemy about Christ on the cross.

  28. But how did an interjection like by Goddes blood! or zblood! become an intensifying adjective, as in a common bloody whore?

  29. At the top levels it’s money and prestige mixed together, normally varying concomitantly, but not always. I think the people you are describing are still E2, and still have some power by virtue of their inherited prestige among those in the know, even if they don’t have monetary power. “How many divisions has the Pope?” said Napoleon sneeringly, but John Paul II showed the world that hard power is not the only power.

  30. “How many divisions has the Pope?” said Napoleon sneeringly

    Stalin, I thought.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    Certain circles of Southern gentility are famous for the devastating insult that only certain species can hear. E.g., “She has such beautiful hands.”

    Oh, that reminds me of a misunderstanding I was told about that probably happened in north Texas: “he’s… interesting” was meant as damning with faint praise, as “he’s barely on my radar at all”, but was understood as “I’m in love with him”.

    Stalin, I thought.

    Yes.

  32. Even the best among us, the men of breeding, the kalos k’agathos

    Aw, it was going so well until this anachronism… I’d have hoped that an author who’s savvy enough to know that Odysseus wouldn’t have spoken fifth-century Greek would not have him use such a thoroughly fifth-century phrase as kalos kagathos (and would have known that it needed to be plural in this sentence in any case).

  33. Yes, that struck me too.

  34. Odikweos wouldn’t work as the Mycenaean pre-form of Ὀδυσσεύς anyway (for at least three reasons). And any Professor of Classical Greek attempting to imitate a convincing Mycenaean accent should carefully pronounce his digammas: kalwós, not “kalos“.

  35. Very true, though here it’s actually †Odikweos who’s dropping his digammas into the polyphloisboisterous sea.

  36. Oops, you’re right, of course. So perhaps “Odikweos” is doing his best to imitate 5th-c. idioms and pronunciations for the professor’s sake (with “the glories of the Classical period” in his mind’s eye).

  37. He is a man of many tropes, after all.

  38. Excellent threads. Thanks, JC, for your asides. Where do you get the time to read all you do? Do you sleep only four hours a night?

    I envy the skills of everyone who participates.

  39. Give Stirling a little credit: he presents his untranslated Greek in a form the reader can easily look up, viz. Classical. After all, none of you complain that the rest of the text is in English rather than Greek! He does have O. refer to his personal goddess as “Athana Potnaia”, though.

    What are the three reasons?

    It was of course Stalin who sneered: my bad. Napoleon said to treat the Pope as someone who commanded at least 200,000 troops. He also said, after all, that the moral is to the physical as three to one.

  40. I have the Very Fast Reading superpower, and (until recent years) the Extremely Retentive (though not eidetic) Memory superpower too. Also, I’ve been fairly sick lately and haven’t been sleeping so well, nor have I been spending time commuting.

  41. I have the Very Fast Reading superpower, and (until recent years) the Extremely Retentive (though not eidetic) Memory superpower too.

    On s’en doute !

  42. Wait till he turns 60 — then we’ll see how that Retentiveness holds out.

  43. At this point, new stuff doesn’t stick so well, but old stuff is still readily recallable, if somewhat more unmoored from its sources than it used to be. But Dr. Google can fix that pretty easily for many things.

  44. “Wait till he turns 60 — then we’ll see how that Retentiveness holds out.”

    …..depends.

    My experience is that there is a strong regional effect on coarse language. When I went from the West Coast into the Army it was a revelation. It was the first time I had ever really been around Southerners and black people. Words like “shit”, “fuck’, and “motherfucker” were often nothing more than anaphors for “stuff, thing” and “person. It was a Southern thing – there was no discernible difference between white and black patterns of coarse language.

    I remember when I learned this particular expression ‘ my drill sergeant smilingly told me “Boy, your shit is weak.” when he found something I had minor thing I had “fucked up.”

  45. He does have O. refer to his personal goddess as “Athana Potnaia”, though.

    Almost right, but it should be potnia (Linear B a-ta-na po-ti-ni-ja).

    What are the three reasons?

    Well, none of the three changes needed to turn Odikweos into Odysseus (i > u, kw > ss, eos > eus) are plausible developments between Mycenaean and later Greek; I assume that’s what Piotr meant, anyway.

  46. Speaking of which, do we know how he became Ulixes and Ulysses in Latin?

  47. Well, the L-variants of the name also occur in Greek. (Alternation between l and d appears to be a feature of “pre-Greek” loanwords, which — together with the lack of a good etymology — suggests that O’s name isn’t natively Greek.) The change to u is, I suppose, explicable if the Romans got the name through the Etruscans, who had no [o].

  48. I think “via Etruscan” is the usual answer.

  49. According to Chantraine, the -d- variant of the name occurs only in literary sources, while inscriptions always show -l-. I’m not sure what to make of that distribution.

  50. O’s name isn’t natively Greek

    Well then perhaps we can devise a half-baked theory to account for Stirling’s fictional facts: Odikweos is a Pelasgian name as yet unassimilated to (more or less) Greek, and therefore subject to more or less random-looking and unsystematic changes. It’s interesting that no one else seems to have borne it in the entire history of Greek. Here’s another fragment from immediately before the first one I quoted (from Chapter 23, for those of you following along at home):

    Odikweos leaned his chin on one fist and watched as a housekeeper in a long gown showed Arnstein to his seat, set out jugs of water and wine and spun-glass goblets, a tray of bread with olive oil and honey for dipping, and departed.

    Then he leaned forward, hairy muscular forearm braced on one knee, and spoke:

    “You are from the days that are yet to come. You and all your people.”

    Ian hid his startlement by reaching for a jug and pouring wine. Unwatered, it lay sweet and thick on his tongue. Well, here’s a bright boy. Isketerol [King of Tartessos and ally of Great Achaia] had gone into hysterics for a day or two when he got the idea back on-Island in the Year 1; a lot of people just couldn’t grasp the concept.

    “How did you find out?” he asked.

    “I… what is your word… deduced it,” Odikweos went on. “Not long after the King-to-be came here to the Achaean lands. From a few things he let drop; and my guest-friend Isketerol of Tartessos is not quite as good at keeping secrets as he thinks. Now and then one or the other would say, in the time of the Eagle People, or ‘in my time ,” instead of ‘my land.”

    “Pretty slim clues,” Arnstein said.

    A shrug. “And it was sensible. Legends tell of a time before men knew of bronze or tilled the earth, and of a time before Zeus let slip the secret of fire. Our bards sing of the days when the Achaeans were new in these lands, coming down from the north to rule the Shore Folk [adopting one of the many proposed etymologies of Pelasgoí] and mix their blood with them; and in those days we knew not the arts of writing, or of dwelling in towns or building in stone. Those we learned from Crete, before we overran it.”

    For a moment sheer scholar’s greed overwhelmed Ian Arnstein. Those poems I’ve got to hear! Then he wrenched his mind back to present matters.

    “How did you know that Walker didn’t just come from a land with more arts than yours?”

    Odikweos nodded. “That was my first thought, and it is what most here believe. But the King and his Wolf People lords, they knew too much of what was here. The mines of iron not a day’s travel from this city; I saw the maps they had — wonders themselves — made of these same lands. They even seemed to know somewhat of the men of Mycenae and the other Achaean kingdoms.

    “So,” he went on, turning his hand palm-up, moving his fingers as if counting off points and then clenching it into a fist. “Either these men were Gods in disguise, or demigods, or seers — or they must know these things because they were from years yet unborn.”

  51. One might bake the theory very slightly further by assuming that Stirling’s kw is a cluster [kw] rather than the labiovelar [kʷ], and positing a sound change Proto-Greek *kw > Attic tt / _e — otherwise unattested but not implausible given the known changes *kʷ > t / _e, *kʷ > p / _o, and *kw > pp / _o (in hippos). Then since Attic tt regularly corresponds to Ionic (and other non-Attic) ss, that’s one irregularity down, two to go.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    the lack of a good etymology

    So he’s unrelated to “I hate” (ὀδύσσομαι)?

    Anyway, the dictionary entry shows forms with -t(t)- as well as -s(s)-. That should mean we’re looking at older -ts-; Greeks who had lost that sound seem to have misinterpreted this as -ks- sometimes, and indeed the entry lists Οὐλιξεύς and Οὐλίξης – Ulixes – right at the beginning.

    [ts] evidently occurred in the language that Greek borrowed θάλασσα ~ θάλαττα from, a pretty basic word for Greek geography and culture.

  53. I at least automatically pronounce it “Odik-weos”, that is, as a cluster.

  54. Thanks for the excursion through the evolution of the name of the wily man. The Etruscan connection is intriguing. But I’ve long wondered: Why the Greek form Odysseus rather than Odysseos?

  55. So he’s unrelated to “I hate” (ὀδύσσομαι)?

    Probably, except by folk etymology.

    Anyway, the dictionary entry shows forms with -t(t)- as well as -s(s)-. That should mean we’re looking at older -ts-

    Apparently so, although that doesn’t necessarily imply that either Odysseus or thalassa were borrowed with -ts-, since other clusters — *ky, *ty, *tw — also became -ts- (and later -tt-/-ss-). For thalassa specifically there is a Hesychian gloss (thought to be Macedonian) δάλαγχα·‡ θάλασσα, which seems hard to reconcile with [ts]. The -ks- variants of Odysseus’s name in LSJ, btw, are from late grammarians, so may not be too reliable.

    Why the Greek form Odysseus rather than Odysseos?

    Why not? Lots of Greek (especially Homeric) names end in -eus, e.g. Akhilleus. Although Greek -os gets Latinized as -us, Greek itself distinguishes -eus from -(e)os.

  56. Note Mycenaean qa-si-re-u (= *gʷasileus) for later βασιλεύς.It was an eu-stem, like Odysseus’s name.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe the folk etymology is responsible for the d, then?

  58. Stefan Holm: sexually related things have been let out of harsh language (we have no corresponding term to ‘fuck you’)…This has however changed with immigration (some 20 percent of modern Swedes have a recent foreign ancestry). In schoolyards today it’s sad to say common language to call little girls ‘cunts’ or crying out ‘I,m gonna fuck your mother’s ass’.

    I’ve noticed that English ‘fuck’ is used many (say, five to fifteen) times in any one fifty-minute Danish or Swedish detective show on television, in particular in The Bridge or The Killing, where one Swede will say to another “Fuck” when another body shows up. My guess is that these swearwords have been introduced to Sweden in films and tv from English language countries. It seems unlikely to have been immigrants, most of whom wouldn’t even have English as their first language.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    Fuck is now found in German, perhaps especially the whole phrase wh* the fuck, but it’s still rare and certainly doesn’t show up on TV.

  60. This was very noticeable on the Flemish TV series ‘Cordon’. Swearing seemed to be entirely in English across all age groups and both sexes. Not just ‘fuck’ but a wide range of profanities from ‘bloody’ to ‘cunt’.

    Interestingly, I learnt that Flemish for ‘sorry/pardon’ is ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ is ‘merci’.

  61. Maybe the folk etymology is responsible for the d, then?

    I doubt it; ὀδύσασθαι is a rare verb (it doesn’t even appear in the present tense — the citation form ὀδύσσομαι is a lexicographer’s construct). In fact it looks like the majority of its attestations are in Homeric references to / puns on Odysseus. (Also, as I mentioned, non-literary sources like inscriptions, where you might most expect folk etymologies to show up, always have -l-.)

  62. In fact, looking in the etymological dictionaries, it appears that the kinda-attested (only in Hesychius) present form should be ὀδύομαι, without -σσ- at all (and possibly cognate with Latin odium).

  63. Thanks TR for wiping the antiroman (or in the case of Greek, antilatin) prejudice from my eyes.

  64. Note Mycenaean qa-si-re-u (= *gʷasileus) for later βασιλεύς

    Looks like a caesar’s hiding in there.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    Flemish for ‘sorry/pardon’ is ‘sorry’

    Oh yes, that’s also widespread in German and Polish.

    it doesn’t even appear in the present tense — the citation form ὀδύσσομαι is a lexicographer’s construct

    Interesting.

  66. Sir Humphrey Davy
    Abominated gravy.
    He lived in the odium
    Of having discovered sodium.

  67. Flemish for ‘sorry/pardon’ is ‘sorry’
    Oh yes, that’s also widespread in German and Polish.

    And Norwegian.

  68. And trendy in Israeli Hebrew: סורי

  69. At least in Europe, sorry seems to be so widespread that I’m curious about which languages it isn’t present in.

  70. Welsh and Irish would seem to be obvious candidates.

  71. David Marjanović says:

    I think I haven’t encountered it in French (pardon, quoi).

    Unlike cool.

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