A comment by marie-lucie in this thread (which has now reached the hundred-comment mark thanks to the usual digressions, in this case involving edibles) is so interesting I thought I’d give it its own post:

At a time when I was required to read 19th-century French novels, I was struck by a number of occasions in which a young man from the provincial bourgeoisie, sent to Paris as a student but preferring to write verse, got involved with a working-class girl who embarrassed him by pronouncing poète as pouâte, that is, just as poêle is pronounced as if it were written pouâle. I suspect that the girls in question were coming from the (then) rural belt around Paris which preserved the older pronunciation of written oi (as in moi or mois) as [we] while Parisians and most educated people had long switched to [wa], and they made the equation rural [ouè] = Parisian [ouâ], and therefore interpreted the vowel sequence in poète as a forgotten instance of rurality to be avoided in more sophisticated company. Similarly my father’s grandmother, coming from a village South of Paris, pronounced the word fouet ‘whip’ as [fwa] (I never heard her talk about poets).

This must be a common phenomenon; I’m reminded of the confusion between final [i] and [ǝ] in some American dialects (e.g., Missouri vs. “Missoura”), not to mention the recent post about New Zealand [r]. Anybody know of examples in other languages of people trying to avoid a shibboleth and getting it wrong?


  1. Isn’t this the essence of hypercorrection? I’m aware that not all hypercorrection is shibboleth avoidance, but it seems to me to be the prototypical case. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypercorrection#In_other_languages has some interesting non-English examples, including a funny anecdote about hypercorrect /x/ < /h/ in Standard Dutch as spoken by a speaker of a Flemish dialect that normally changes /x/ > /h/.
    (I can’t get my wife to stop saying [pri’fi] for prix fixe; she knows the correct pronunciation in theory, but can’t come out with it fluently.)

  2. In Spanish, Southern speakers sometimes turn Bilbao to BilbaDo, and bacalao to bacalaDo.

  3. Yeah, I’m with John, this is a typical case of hypercorrection. Arabic is full of them, for example in dialects where glottal stop has replaced the voiceless uvular plosive [q] ((Syria, Egypt, some parts of North Africa). Speakers of those dialects naturally try to avoid this shibboleth when speaking formally which gives rise to forms like ‘Fuqād’ = ‘bereavement’ instead of the correct ‘Fu’ād’ = ‘personal name, heart’. It even shows up in Judeo-Arabic and Christian Arabic writing, e.g. the hypercorrect קראצ֗י qarāḍī (plural of ‘arḍ’ = ‘land’) instead of the correct אראצ֗י.

  4. Hypercorrection, that’s the word that was eluding me! Thanks, and the Spanish and Arabic examples are excellent.

  5. I bet the word you half-remembered is hyperurbanism. It’s ore specific than hypercorrection.

  6. Gary,
    I must confess this is the first time I’ve encountered this word. I can even imagine using it when discussing Arabic dialectology, what with the traditional distinction between sedentary/urban and bedouin dialects. On the other hand, considering the shifting meaning of the word urban, especially in American English (“urban youth”)… Hey, wait a second, did we just find a great word to describe the speech of white kids trying to act all gangsta?

  7. In a webforum devoted to Hindi films, one member said that he’d noticed many rural speakers from Uttar Pradesh (my father’s birth state) tending to use ज़ “z” for ज “j” in this way. Since using ज when it should be ज़ could be considered bucolic, apparently some “yokels” overcorrect and use ज़ even when it is supposed to be ज.

  8. In Manchester people tend to use “oo” for “uh” – thus “booter” for “butter”. Hypercorrection by a Mancunian is the subject of a joke concerning Sir Vivian Fuchs.

  9. bulbul,
    As I understand it, a hyperurbanism is a form that arises from a process of hypercorrection(i.e. hyperurbanism refers to the form, not to the process).
    I was surprised to see via google that it’s a rare word, and mst references just define it
    I’m familiar with it in the discussion of Latin and Greek. Initial H was an artificially maintained pronunciation in “proper” Latin, but ignored it the vernacular. In one of his poems, Catullus mocks a social climber who hasn’t quite mastered the H and puts it into places where it doesn’t belong. Classicists refer to the resulting formations (Hionias instead of Ionias, in Catullus’ example)as hyperurbanisms, mixed Latin-Greek etymology be damned.

  10. Gary,
    hyperurbanism refers to the form, not to the process
    That makes sense. So ‘hyperurbanization’ for the process then?

  11. As it happens, the shifting of vowels on the end of Missouri doesn’t count as hyperurbanism – if anything you could call it hyperruralism, because you can’t get elected to statewide office if you pronounce the name of the state correctly. It sounds like nails on chalkboard to those of us from the urban areas of the state. I just about called up my local NBC affiliate the first time I heard one of the newscasters say “Missoura” on the 6pm news. The person in question isn’t even a native, they picked it up from being in the state capital during the legislative session.
    Can you tell this is a personal pet peeve?

  12. mollymooly says

    I knew the word hyperurbanism, but am disappointed to learn I have been mispronouncing it based on “urbane” rather than “urban”. Does this count as one?
    I don’t think Missouree/Missouruh counts as a hyperanything either way, since it’s just a different rendering in different dialects, neither of which is trying or failing to imitate the other. One dialect not liking the other is a different issue.

  13. “I have been mispronouncing it based on “urbane” rather than “urban”. Does this count as one?”
    The comment on Missouruh makes me think that perhaps there is a place for “hyperurbaneism” to refere to an extremely old, even ancient, exaggerated pet peeve. 🙂

  14. parvomagnus says

    Similar to /prifi/, there’s the somewhat opaque “coup de gras” – it seems so unfrench, provided you don’t know any French, to end a word in an /s/. Northern Germans who merge /x/ and /S/ into just /S/ will pronounce something like “Fisch” as “Fich”.
    It’s funny how the Cockney /h/ paralleled the Roman. Comic characters in Victorian novels often seem to have a perfect anti-intution about where they should go.
    Where I grew up, ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ had both merged, in productive use, into ‘lay’. In high school, I decided I should learn to use them correctly, and now I’ll occasionally hypercorrect a ‘lay’ into a ‘lie’, like “lie that over there”.
    It seems like a lot of these come from people in one group trying to replicate a distinction that’s found in the prestige dialect, but not in their native ideolect. I can’t think of any as good and involved as the French example.

  15. Similar to /prifi/, there’s the somewhat opaque “coup de gras”…
    Yes, this style of hypercorrection is the most noticeable in Australia – at least among phonetic hypercorrections, which this thread is so far confined to (though laylie is borderline). When teaching first-year philosophy students I always caution them: Descartes ends with /t/, not /ɑ:/.
    One of the many less recognised moves is substitution of the glottal stop for intervocalic /j/: be’ond for beyond.
    Of course, certain American ways with Spanish and other foreign vowels could be construed as hypercorrections. But enough said about them.
    Non-phonetic hypercorrections in Australia include a category that I call straining for formality. This is absolutely rampant in our public discourse, and therefore in undergraduate writing. Thus far, not so far; whilst, not while; on a XXX basis, not XXX[ly]; abuse of the reason being… and so on and on.

  16. I presume the overzealous use of ‘r’ among Chinese trying to pick up Beijing pronunciation would count as a hyperurbanism.

  17. Another example of overdropping of final consonants in French borrowings occurs in “reservoir”, “memoir”, and the like in the speech of some rhotic speakers.

  18. marie-lucie says

    /prifi/, etc
    There is also taytatay for tête-à-tête. I had seen this described, but recently I actually heard someone say it – this in Canada where lots of people have received instruction in French.
    On the other hand, I have a hard time refraining from pronouncing the t in English crochet and debut when followed by suffixes such as ed and ing: crocheted ought to be pronounced like crotchety (I have only seen the latter, never heard it, but I assume it does have a /t/).
    About non-phonetic hypercorrections, what about the various versions of the phrases containing regard(s): regarding X, with/in regard(s) to X, as regards X and even more. Which one(s) seem(s) most/least palatable?

  19. Marie-Lucie:
    In regards to has recently become endemic in Australia, though it was seldom heard a decade ago. I advise my clients and students to substitute the traditional and least offensive with regard to, if they must regard at all.
    Another phonetic hypercorrection that is becoming entrenched by stealth: separate articulation or avoidance of sandhi in cases like put time into it, kiss someone else, speak carefully. This is quite a trenchant change: part-time and the like have always had a single “delaying” articulation for the t-t, and it has always been standard in connected speech between separate words. (I remember having to coach a Serbian-speaking learner to achieve this “native” single articulation in part-time.) Now one sometimes even hears hypercorrective multiple articulations, such as just t take it out.

  20. “I advise my clients and students to substitute the traditional and least offensive with regard to, if they must regard at all.”
    The examples you cite are all very common here in NZ, too. The only mystery to me is why they are offensive, and to whom. Shift happens.

  21. Hmm, I’ve always heard and said crocheted and debuted as croshayed and daybued.
    However, I’m not as bad as the fellow student (many years ago) who puzzled everyone by talking about a coop-deh-tat, until someone, by a stroke of genius, realized he meant coup d’etat, nor the other who rebelled at a classic novel which used the word reckoning–she claimed it sounded “redneck” (for the sake of non USAers, she was referring to the typical Southern usage “I reckon” meaning “I suppose” or “I guess”). Nor another person who criticized the phrase “hors de combat” because the context had no indication that any cavalry was involved.

  22. Shift happens.
    Ay, it do an’ all. But one doesn’t need to be an arrant arch-prescriptivist to counsel conservatism. In my experience sensitive writers do want to be cautioned if their writing is not “standard”, or suitably timeless in its usages. Academic English in particular has a lasting public, stretching across the decades. A good rule of thumb, therefore: try to write so that readers fifty years ago and readers fifty years from now would not be affronted. At least, so it has always seemed; but the infernet’s Satanic moils will perhaps change all that.
    Blogolectal practice? That’s a different matter.
    …croshayed and daybued.
    Yes. And ricoshayed.

  23. Arthur J. P. Crown says

    Are ‘erbs, ‘istorians and ‘otels corrections or hypercorrections? The first one is only American, I think.
    I don’t know if this would be considered correction or hypercorrection, but my very old Latin master always said non-rhotic ‘erbs for urbs; we noticed the contrast when we got a much younger teacher who made a big deal of trilling ‘oorrrbs’. That was in the sixties.

  24. van Goff or van Goh ?

  25. Crown, A. J. P. says

    There used to be a removals company in NY called Van Gogh.

  26. Crown, A. J. P. says

    There used to be a removals company in NY called Van Gogh.

  27. I do not have many examples, but I know that in Russian, many people try to make some words sound “better” by accentuating them earlier, that is, áрбуз instead of арбýз, алфáвит instead of алфави’т, and I guess докýмент for докумéнт counts as well. Now that I write this I realize this only happens with apparently “foreign” words.
    Actually, this would not qualify as hypercorrection unless some original pattern can be found, to which the speakers try to bring these words. On the other hand, there definitely must be some such pattern, or their wrongly accentuated words would not seem to them “correcter” and better sounding.

  28. What about иначе — are there still people who accent that on the first syllable? I think of that as old-fashioned.

  29. Crown, A. J. P. says

    алфáвит instead of алфави’т
    There’s a similar thing with foreign words in Norwegian, some older people tend to say po-tet for potato and ban-nan for banana.

  30. Crown, A. J. P. says

    алфáвит instead of алфави’т
    There’s a similar thing with foreign words in Norwegian, some older people tend to say po-tet for potato and ban-nan for banana.

  31. I think that this may also be the case for the ‘educated Scots’ accent.
    Also known as “Morningsaid” (to rhyme with ‘maid’) after the upmarket Morningside district of Edinburgh (or “Kelvinsaid” from the equivalent Kelvinside district in Glasgow), the accent replaces vowels so that “my” becomes “may” (rhyme with “Green Bay”) and “backs” rhymes with “hex”.
    And, thinking about it, this may be a reaction against the broad West Scots accent, which has its own set of vowel changes, so that “car” becomes “cawr” (to rhyme with “bore”) and “my” becomes “mah”.
    In other words, working class coal comes in saucks. To make it absolutely clear that you are not working class, you have to emphasise that your coal comes in sex.

  32. parvomagnus says

    ‘erbs, ‘istorians and ‘otels
    ‘erbs is American, but’s not thought of any different than ‘onor or ‘ourglass – just a normal word with a silent h in the orthography. ‘istorian comes from the older practice of dropping an h that begins an unaccented syllable, and’s really only noticeable, to me at least, when said “an historian”. Similarly, “an historical event” Those two could be filed under “straining for formality”, I think, at least in American English. I’ve read about ‘otel as a hyperfrenchism, though I’ve never myself encountered it.
    infernet’s Satanic moils
    ‘moil’ is a word deserving of far wider use. That also brought to mind “dark Satanic mills”, which in retrospect is obviously a prophetic warning against blogs.

  33. Crown, A. J. P. says

    @ parvomagnus: do you know the ‘istory of Hamericans saying ‘erbs? ‘Ave they halways said ‘erbs, hor is it honly recently?

  34. Crown, A. J. P. says

    @ parvomagnus: do you know the ‘istory of Hamericans saying ‘erbs? ‘Ave they halways said ‘erbs, hor is it honly recently?

  35. Better than Satanic mohels.

  36. fimus scarabaeus says

    Oh! why the ‘unten’ fishun’ shouten’ , it be so that the jackdaws can caw with the the nicer Jackdaws and not cor with the rooks and keep those nasty crows from the ravun’ ravens.
    We like to exclude those of the lesser breeds by showing our better breeding.

  37. herb:
    The h was in and out in the spelling in French and English until etymologizing pressures won the day and spelling was standardized.
    It wasn’t pronounced by anyone until the 19 Century. American preserves the old pronunciation.

  38. mollymooly says

    Then there were the Cawstle Cawtholics in Ireland, who aped the accent and manners of the British administration in Dublin Cawstle.
    I have the THOUGHT vowel in “father” and “R” (the name of the letter), though PALM in “Castle” and TRAP in “Catholic”.

  39. Crown, A. J. P. says

    MMcM: it wasn’t pronounced by anyone until the 19 Century. American preserves the old pronunciation.
    That’s good enough for me, I’ll use only ‘erbs from now on. There’s an herb garden only ten feet from this room.

  40. Crown, A. J. P. says

    MMcM: it wasn’t pronounced by anyone until the 19 Century. American preserves the old pronunciation.
    That’s good enough for me, I’ll use only ‘erbs from now on. There’s an herb garden only ten feet from this room.

  41. Bill Walderman says

    “The h was in and out in the spelling in French and English until etymologizing pressures won the day and spelling was standardized.”
    Interesting. The spelling of “heir” seems to be etymologized (although I think that the Latin word was sometimes written “eres”), but the pronunciation never underwent the same process of hypercorrection, perhaps because of “hair.”

  42. In Yiddish, “litvishe” Jews can jocosely refer to speakers of Polish Yiddish as “Paylish,” while “poylishe yidn” can refer to Litvaks as “lutvaks.” I guess you could call this pseudohypercorrection. The explanation follows (quoting Mikhl Herzog, formerly of Columbia Univ., posting on the Yiddish list-serve Mendele):
    “Standard Yiddish _oy_ in words like _broyt_, _groys_, _poylish_ is rendered
    _ey_ in Litvish (thus, breyt, greys, Peylish).
    Standard Yiddish _ey_ in words like _geyn_, _heym_, meydl_ is rendered _ay_ in
    _Poylish_ (thus gayn, haym, maydl).
    When the Litvak attempts to imitate __Poylish_, he ‘interprets’ (either
    mistakenly or mockingly) HIS _ey_ (from Standard Yiddish_oy_) for Standard
    Yiddish _ey_ (which is rendered _ay_ in Poylish). In other words, he
    classifies HIS OWN ‘Peylish’ with the words _geyn_, _heym_, etc. (which are
    _ay_ in Poylish) rather than with the words _broyt_, _groys_, etc.
    In revenge, the speaker of Poylish, for similar reasons involving other
    regular sound correspondences, refers to the Litvak as ‘lutvak’ or, at an even
    further remove, as ‘lotvak’. ”

  43. I’m a little late on this topic, but….
    Despite popular perception outside Ireland, most of its English speakers do distinguish ‘t’ and ‘th’. In northern dialects, ‘th’ is a dental fricative, and ‘t’ an aspirated stop, just like in standard English. In southern dialects, ‘t’ remains an aspirated dental stop. ‘th’ is often an aspirated labio-dental stop. The difference is phonemic in the Hiberno-English dialect.
    However, in some southern dialects, there’s no phonemic difference between ‘t’ and ‘th’, so that ‘tree’ and ‘three’ sound exactly the same. It’s the accent you hear in movies, and in Ireland is a lower-prestige pronunciation. Here’s where the hypercorrection comes in: in pronouncing ‘throat’ which has both sounds in the same word, it’s not uncommon to it pronounced ‘troath’, in which each sound is exchanged for the other. (These hypercorrections are never quite rational, are they?)
    As a footnote, ‘t’ has alternate pronunciations. At the end of words, it’s often a kind of dental approximant fricative that sounds like ‘shhh’ to speakers of other English dialects. And in the middle of words, in some southern dialects, it gets elided to just ‘h’, as in ‘Sahurda’, the day before ‘Sunda’.

  44. Great stuff! I’m glad I asked this question.

  45. David Marjanović says

    Hionias instead of Ionias, in Catullus’ example

    I thought in hinsidiis? We re’d that poem at school.

    a funny anecdote about hypercorrect /x/ /h/.

    Pronouncing /x/ as [h] (at least between vowels) is a feature of the Carinthian dialect of German. I wonder if this once was a hypercorrection that comes from the Slovene substratum, Slovene of course having a [x] but no [h]…

  46. What about avoiding the ‘appearance of profanity’?
    Heck, shoot and fudge are standins for words not normally used in public (at least ten years ago). I guess you can say H-E-doubletoothpicks now. And “gee” used to be naughty as some thought it was short for “Jesus” and taking the name of the Lord in vain. Some devout Arabs still concern themselves with this as on a late night bus in Jordan I was once warned about the use of “wallah?” meaning “really?” as it has the name of Allah in it. OMG! (That’s “Oh, my goodness”, right?) In Spanish if you start to say the word “mierda” (sh*t) you can quickly change it to “miercoles” (Wednesday).

  47. Heck, shoot and fudge are standins for words not normally used in public
    I don’t think I’ve heard the first two in at least forty years except jokingly, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard “fudge” at all. But then I’ve moved in fast company.

  48. It sounds like the interjection Oh, fudge! (which I’m surprised is new to anyone) has been reanalyzed as a euphemism for Oh, intercourse! (since we’re being coy), which it does not seem to be. Does that mean it has now taken on verbal senses, too?

  49. michael farris says

    My two favorite standins from Polish:
    kurczę ‘chicken’ (instead of all purpose explitive kurwa, literally ‘whore’)
    Holender ‘Dutchman’ (instead of cholera ‘cholera, the disease’ a stronger expletive than it might sound).

  50. the interjection Oh, fudge! (which I’m surprised is new to anyone)
    I didn’t mean to imply it was new to me; I was aware of it, but thought of it as something that excessively euphemistic ladies in the Midwest a century or so ago might be heard to say.
    which it does not seem to be
    Well, if it’s not a euphemism for fuck, what the heck is it?

  51. Here is Wordorigins.org on fudge, mostly summarizing the OED, which I don’t have at hand.
    As an interjection, it first shows up in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield; here is a footnote from a critical edition on the passage.
    Isaac Disraeli tells of a Capt. Fudge, but I don’t think anyone believes that to be the source any more.
    Skeat thought it was from Low German futsch, and Farmer and Henley followed him. It isn’t even clear that the verb (ME fadge) and noun senses are related; the interjection seems to go with the noun.
    Since we’re here, may as well include Safire’s column, though it adds little.

  52. Huh. Live and learn.

  53. michael farris says

    Full disclosure: I’ve never used ‘fudge’ as an expletive, but if I had, I’d have done so as a standin for ‘fuck’. Does that count?

  54. I was aware of it, but thought of it as something that excessively euphemistic ladies in the Midwest a century or so ago might be heard to say.
    Those of us from the Midwest (you caught me there) do not find any euphemism to be excessive. They are often more fun than the unoriginal and uninteresting words they are meant to replace, and you can say them in from of My Mother (well, no, you can’t, at least you’d better not, but that’s a standard I like to give my students when I answer questions about culturally appropriate usage).
    Urban Dictionary agrees with my Midwest usage and even adds another definition (TMI) about promiscuous gay males.
    Does that mean it has now taken on verbal senses, too? That’s funny, you can say “Oh, fudge”, but not “Fudge you”. I hear the F-word so often on the street, often uttered by pre-pubescent youths, that I am sure this word is undergoing a metamorphosis from it’s original meaning of “copulation”. But what does it really mean now? A rejection of sexuality? It can’t be a rebellion against authority, since their parents talk that way too.

  55. I don’t think Urban Dictionary is supposed to be very reliable, though others here would know a lot better than I do.

  56. Nijma: I hear you; my mother was from Iowa, and combined a love of fun that extended to visiting lesbian bars and amazing palatial men’s rooms (well, one each, as far as I know) with a steadfast Lutheranism and an intolerance of bad language that kept my college-era potty mouth firmly reined in when I was home.
    And yeah, Urban Dictionary is not reliable. Fun, but not reliable.
    [To provide a little schadenfreude, I will tell you all that I was unable to post my comment at first because it contained the string “lesbian,” which I must have added to the Blacklist during a spam attack featuring that word, and had to delist it in order to comment.]

  57. I would not be able to read The Internets without Urban Dictionary–although I wouldn’t trust it for any history of usage, other than to relate urban legends. I have it in my browser’s search bar along with google and wikipedia. Slang changes so fast and I’m not young enough to still be in that language vanguard.
    My personal favorite expletives are scatological–when Mom and my students aren’t listening in. That includes blogging–mine is child-friendly–since I’m paranoid that one day my anonymous identity could be discovered. I don’t use extra filters–the WordPress spam filters keep out petty much everything I don’t want.
    The only problem I ever had was when I wrote about the infamous Trinity Church a year before everyone else discovered it. Then some people who apparently went to that church could not seem to write comments without using profanity. I have never seen that in churched people before, my experience being with Lake Wobegone and Iowa type Lutherans and Methodists. When they saw I was replacing the body of offensive words with asterisks, they took it upon themselves to instructed me further, insisting that “honky” be replaced with asterisks as well.
    I would love to see a scholarly treatment of the “F-word”. The first time I ever heard of it was in an underground student paper from South Dakota with Jerry Farber’s infamous essay
    and other articles containing the word m*********** written like that with asterisks that had to be explained to me.
    My father, who grew up in Iowa and Minnesota never heard of The F-Word before he was in the military during WWII. There was one guy who used it. So is it something that spread primary through the military? Is it something that started in blue collar or the lower economic groups then became trendy like blue jeans did or maybe with urban social groups and then spread through youth culture? What kind of people use this word?
    I can’t tell you how irritating it is not to be able to be in a place where I don’t have to hear this F-Word, whether the bus, the train, or in my own yard firing up the grill and overhearing what is on the other side of the fence.
    I can understand using poo words to describe something bad. I mean, if something is negative, don’t you want to just flush it? But to describe something negative in terms of copulation? Do people really have such contempt for sexuality? Perhaps there is a religious component to this with the recent growth of influence of evangelical groups?

  58. What is this “infamous Trinity Church” of which you speak?

  59. NIjma: You want Jesse Sheidlower’s book The F Word (1999,ISBN 0375706348), which will tell you everything you ever wanted to know. (Sheidlower is a professional lexicographer, so it’s not a pop book.)
    And I too am curious about the infamous Trinity Church.

  60. A few thoughts on why I curse. For one, it feels good. Cathartic maybe, I don’t know. It’s also a way of defining myself when I’m talking to people I don’t really know, as in “I’m a person who does this.” Not something to aspire to, maybe (the need to define yourself, that is, not the cursing); but for me at least interacting with unfamiliar people always stirs a little anxiety, and having a persona helps.
    Why work cursing into your persona? Well, first, I’m more of a why-not person and I’ve never really heard a satisfying answer to that question. In other words, if someone wants me to change my behavior because they find it offensive the onus is one them, I think, to explain what’s so offensive about it. (Often if their reasons for finding something offensive are lame, I’m happy to go on cursing just keep them away from me.) Second, even though cursing doesn’t have much countercultural currency anymore (if it ever did — I genuinely don’t know), it does have some; and especially when I consider the political season now heating up (all those voices on TV), culture in the broader sense feels like something I want to set myself somewhat apart from.
    That said, I try not be dogmatic about it. I’ve cursed on LH before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but for this comment at least I’m abstaining because NIjma says it offends her, and she seems pretty cool. Also, I’m now kind of curious about the Trinity Church thing.

  61. Full disclosure: I lived my teenage years as a real… hm, let’s go for “miscreant” — so I reached this position on cursing before I ever articulated any reasons for it. That also happens to be the order in which Oliver Wendell Holmes described reaching all of his judicial decisions, not that those were all good, but now I’m really just talking… this is gonna be harder than I thought.

  62. Oh, I just realized, Trinity is Obama’s church — with Reverend Wright and all that. I imagine that would lead to some disgusting mail.

  63. D’oh!
    *slaps forehead*
    Thanks, jamessal. Glad somebody’s keeping track of the world out there.

  64. Oh, shoot, here I’ve been having a refreshing little nap while everyone was puzzling over my localisms. Yes, the (retired, sort of) Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity church in Chicago it is. The article in question I linked to my signature in the long rant above, in case anyone is interested.(The link works but I had to refresh it to get it to come up.)
    As I mentioned before, I enjoy a good scatological expletive now and then in private, but my blog persona doesn’t do that, especially since I read the thing about the schoolteacher who was denied a diploma after she appeared in Facebook in a pirate’s costume.
    The main reason cursing can be effective in a social setting is becasue it’s unusual and unexpected. Or used to be. But stuff like this is why it’s not even interesting any more:
    Sarah Palin has “five f#@king kids”? Well, the pregnant one, sure that’s obviously accurate, but the smaller ones? The baby with the birth defects too? Give me a f#@^ing break.
    One thing I used to teach about writing is to make descriptions accurate. For instance “a nice car”. Meaningless. A “nice” car is different for everyone and the word adds nothing but noise to the sentence. Now, if you say “a red car with four doors and green leather upholstery”, you are beginning to communicate real ideas. So why on earth would anyone say “five f’ing kids”? Also, I tend to have a soft spot in my heart for copulation, so I don’t like hearing it defamed by someone like this who apparently doesn’t have any fond personal memories to reminisce over.
    I like the thought of developing a persona though. I tend to be “task oriented” and have despaired of ever developing anything bordering on charisma or the “process oriented” stuff they say is necessary for success. My attempts at working a few swear words into my public life years ago were not particularly stellar though. I was the only female in my work group so maybe it was an attempt to be “one of the guys” and blend in. It ended up making me stand out and look less professional as everyone was making jokes about me being violent, which is funny only in retrospect.
    The violent interpretation of profanity I ran into again later when I had a friend with a boyfriend who was truly violent. He didn’t have to do very much. A few bruises on her arm, slamming her against a wall, then all he had to do was have a beer or too and use a few swear words to show he was out of control and she had better walk on eggshells.
    Perhaps in a less malignant or casual social relationship profanity also serves to make potentially aggressive people back off or send a message that says “don’t mess with me.” I think some also use it to try to prove heterosexuality, although to me it implies being blue collar or insecure or uneducated. Or an educated person trying to pretend they are from the wrong side of the tracks.

  65. “a beer or two” not “too”
    And after I made such uncharitable remarks about people who don’t proofread for there and their.

  66. For instance “a nice car”. Meaningless.
    Provided you know enough about the speaker, “nice car” can actually tell you more than a whole page of ad copy. Context, context, context.
    So why on earth would anyone say “five f’ing kids”?
    Because the speaker might not be describing the kids but rather expressing his attitude toward them. Language has many purposes apart from delivering factual information; otherwise, we’d talk about a tenth as much and only ever read textbooks.
    Also, I tend to have a soft spot in my heart for copulation, so I don’t like hearing it defamed by someone like this who apparently doesn’t have any fond personal memories to reminisce over.
    Tobias Wolff has a nice line (paraphrasing because of course I can’t find the book): you don’t know what you hold sacred until you recoil at impiety.
    Now I’m really gonna get to work.

  67. The fudgin’ spammers really went at it, huh?

  68. The fudgin’ spammers really went at it, huh?
    Damn fudgin’ right they did. I spent hours deleting literally thousands of comments (a single thread had 145 spam comments). Haven’t had an assault remotely like that in years. And if I hadn’t closed most older posts to comments, I shudder to think how bad it would have been. Die, spammers, die!

  69. Siganus Sutor says

    Citroën still has a tankful of them. (Not that think this post should be closed though.)
    Marie-Lucie: pronounced the word fouet ‘whip’ as [fwa]
    I know a place on Earth where this word is often pronounced [fwεt]. I wonder if this may have something to do with what we discussed — if I’m not mistaken — on the “Pinochet” post. But if the writing ever influenced the pronunciation I wonder how this could have happened in Creole, which was created by people who had no access to written material.

  70. Crap, I thought I’d gotten them all. OK, deleted, and if anyone finds any remaining pockets of Evil, let me know.

  71. bdOC8N bgrjvrtxokzr, [url=http://fivrhtqvxjiy.com/]fivrhtqvxjiy[/url], [link=http://nugjiqxisind.com/]nugjiqxisind[/link], http://gusviubotflf.com/

  72. Because the speaker might not be describing the kids but rather expressing his attitude toward them.
    I get it that when the lowlife in the video says Palin has “five f#@king kids” he is trying to say having children disqualifies Palin from working. (or maybe I haven’t got that interpretation right–which is my point about substituting profanity for accurate speech). But why not say “five sh*itting kids” or “five chocolating kids”. I mean, poo is nasty, and if he was trying to say the kids were nasty, it would get the point across. Or if he was trying to say the kids were wonderful the chocolate adjective would work. But I am stuck, as Jamessal points out, with the “context”, or “knowing enough about the speaker” to read between the lines. Clearly the f-word here is meant to express disdain for a situation and compare that to disdain for sexuality, so the only thing I get out of it is that the speaker must have an unusually dysfunctional love life.
    This might sound like just a snark, but the contemporary street usage of the f-word is a whole lot of cognitive dissonance for me. Maybe it’s just being used as a sort of vocalized pause, a word to insert, um, in the situation where, uh, you can’t think of, er, the right word to, ahh, use. If someone can’t frickin think of the right frickin word to frickin use in a frickin sentence, why should I frickin pay frickin attention?
    Another explanation occurs to me from an Arab-American I once met who described a potential sexual encounter as “just fu@king”. He wasn’t looking for marriage or commitment or even love, (it turned out later he was already married). I think he was looking for the ritual of pursuit, seduction, romance, the thrill of the chase. You don’t often hear American guys complain about lust not being meaningful enough, so maybe this guy’s characterization of the kind of sex he wasn’t looking for is just a red herring–or from another culture, as the ultimate insult in Arabic is against someone’s sister and not on lust itself. But maybe the f-word is at heart a complaint about lust as a lowest human denominator.

  73. marie-lucie says

    (Creole fouet as [fwet])
    In the Pinochet thread I think I referred to the pronunciation of final t in words ending in et in dialects of the Atlantic coast of France (and in Canadian dialects originating in that area). I remember reading that at least some French-based creoles showed links with that particular region, for instance in the presence of words originally belonging to seafaring vocabulary. It is possible that [fwet] does come from that region. Also, there may be the influence of the verb fouetter, which has a spoken [t] in all of its forms, hence a possible extension of this [t] to the noun. These are only suggestions, there are probably studies bearing on this.

  74. maybe the f-word is at heart a complaint about lust as a lowest human denominator
    Or maybe a word can just have more than one meaning…

  75. You have another little spambot nesting in this thread.
    I can’t figure out how to subscribe to your comments feed, usually there is a “meta” something with the RSS feeds, including comments RSS. I couldn’t survive without seeing all my blogs’ comments in a feedreader, not to mention easier to skim comments and pick out the spam from a list.

  76. David Marjanović says

    I don’t think I’ve heard the first two in at least forty years except jokingly, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard “fudge” at all. But then I’ve moved in fast company.

    WTF? I see heck written all the time, all over teh intarwebz. My thesis supervisor says shoot all the time when he speaks English, so he must have got it from people at Toronto or Berkeley.
    Never encountered fudge, though.

    kurczę ‘chicken’ (instead of all purpose explitive kurwa, literally ‘whore’)

    So I was right about this after all! What about kurde (…which may have ę at the end after all, I don’t know)?

    Sarah Palin has “five f#@king kids”? Well, the pregnant one, sure that’s obviously accurate, but the smaller ones? The baby with the birth defects too? Give me a f#@^ing break.

    Well, there you have it: it’s the emphatic particle of the English language, inserted in front of the stressed syllable of the utterance you want to emphasize. Many languages have such a particle, for example Russian and Yiddish (though in those cases its etymology is mysterious to me at least).

    he is trying to say having children disqualifies Palin from working.

    He’s emphasizing the high number of children. But because kids is stressed, not five, the emphatic particle goes in front of kids, even though the new information is five. You know this rule quite well — you used it:

    If someone can’t frickin think of the right frickin word to frickin use in a frickin sentence, why should I frickin pay frickin attention?

    Emphasis added.

  77. David Marjanović says

    I haven’t told you the best yet. As an interjection, fuck is now entering German and Polish! I use it because there’s no German way to express outrage at a situation in a single syllable.
    (It’s important that the situation makes you angry. If it doesn’t, German words are available and are used, depending on the dialect even ones with a single syllable, and we’ve been taught about Polish above.)

  78. I will be dipped in sh*t.
    way to express outrage at a situation in a single syllable
    English grammar usage is always diabolically simple once someone points out the rule. This just blows me away.
    [It still doesn’t answer the question of why copulation would be considered outrageous.]
    But of course I know how to use frickin in a sentence, and thank you for pointing out my instinctive correct usage. No rurality here. Just for the record, I wasn’t outraged though. More like showing off my polished cosmopolitan veneer, since I grew up in Boofoo, South Dakota where those words are never uttered. I’m as sophisticated as all get out.
    The last time I was in Petra (Jordan) the bedouins had picked up the F-word and were using it to demonstrate their command of English slang. (Why do other cultures always pick up on the bubblegum culture Western ideas and not stuff like rule of law or separation of church and state?) I tried to tell them that language was only for uneducated people, but how to explain it better than that? My urban Jordanian students also thought the n-word was okay to use in conversation since they hear it in films. Oh fudge, how to explain. In the films when someone uses the word, there is always a fight afterwards, right?
    Perhaps the word “even” also has this function? I have had a hard time explaining the use of “even”–Spanish “aun”–(sorry, don’t remember how to put an accent on the uwith html)to my intermediate students, except to say it’s a weasel word and when someone uses it they are starting a fight.

  79. there’s no German way to express outrage at a situation in a single syllable.
    Doesn’t Scheiße work for that?

  80. Two syllables.

  81. Two syllables.
    Drat. Back in my little podunk town we believed sheiskampf was a really nasty German insult with two syllables. Avoiding the appearance of rurality is not as easy as it looks.

  82. David Marjanović says

    It still doesn’t answer the question of why copulation would be considered outrageous.

    Just a random word with shock value. And which words have the largest shock value is, of course, where traditions differ: in Slovak and Hungarian there’s an emphasis on genitalia, what is done with them (like in English), and what one could maybe do with them, in Czech and German it’s all about ass and shit, in Polish it’s whore and cholera, in Québec (and formerly much of Europe) the sacred is used…

    Back in my little podunk town we believed sheiskampf was a really nasty German insult with two syllables.

    It is true that, when the word used as a prefix, the final vowel is elided. That said, I still don’t understand what a curseworthy fight might be…
    Also, Scheiße tends more to despair than to outrage, IMHO. There are some fine distinctions emerging here.

  83. David Marjanović says

    BTW, no HTML is necessary: copy ú from the Windows character table and paste it, or insert it from the Mac character table; the Linux distributions I’ve seen also have such a thing, though it doesn’t work in all of them.
    (I have both accents on my keyboard. Har, har.)

  84. نجمة Nijma says

    what a curseworthy fight might be
    I guess I was trying to tell them the word had negative consequences. Jordanians don’t really have any concept of hate speech or ethnic slurs–so how do you explain the use of the n-word in films and that they’re not supposed to use the word in ordinary conversation if they don’t have something in their own culture to relate it to? It’s hard enough trying to convince them that solitude is something that Americans enjoy, that you need your own apartment with a key and no unpredictable roommates, and you don’t want to get married tomorrow.
    which words have the largest shock value
    So why is copulation so negative for Americans?
    For Arabs, the worst insult is about your sister’s nads. The average Arab male spends a lot of time chaperoning aforementioned sisters so they can get married with no unfortunate rumors that might necessitate an honor killing. They extended this courtesy to me when I visited, even if a two year old was sent with me on my excursions. So culturally I understand the Arab thing, but not the American thing. Perhaps I lack the temperament of a true linguist, as I keep getting distracted by all these unanswerable side questions.
    Scheiße tends more to despair than to outrage
    So, as in English, despair would be more past tense and outrage present tense, although the interjection forms seem interchangeable to me.
    I don’t see a character table on the Windows website, but there’s one in wikipedia. I suppose in theory Vista and XP can enable more than one language at time, but after it took me three days to enable Arabic in Windows98 I lost steam on keyboards. Then there’s the aggravation of typing out all the letters one by one to make a keyboard chart you can tape to your computer. I still don’t have the Arabic vowel markings–casera, wow, dumma…dead keys?–figured out.
    نجمة Nijma

  85. Nijma: Thanks for providing the Arabic form of your name; now I know how to pronounce it!

  86. David Marjanović says

    So why is copulation so negative for Americans?

    Could be Puritan heritage.
    Not that I had any data on it, but the rumors never cease that violence on TV is less regulated in the USA than in Europe while sex and language are more.

    I don’t see a character table on the Windows website

    Not on the website! In your operating system! It’s rather hidden, though: Start > All Programs > what is the next one called in English… probably something with “additional” > System Programs > Character Table.

  87. > All Programs
    > Accessories
    > System Tools
    > Character Map (which can be added to the Start Menu or put on the Desktop).

  88. Nijma: Thanks for providing the Arabic form of your name; now I know how to pronounce it!
    Maybe other people who don’t read Arabic would like to know that too.

  89. Well, the important point is that the j is an Arabic j (=zh in the Levantine dialect I’m most familiar with); I had been trying to read it as if it were Dutch or something (with ij = diphthong).

  90. Siganus: How do I add the character map to my desktop? It’s a real pain having to go through all those menus any time I want it.

  91. Way cool, DM and SS, I dragged the character table to my Vista desktop and thought that would just make a shortcut, but it moved the whole program. I guess that’s okay. It would be nicer to have an icon on the bottom that would call up the chart, like you can call up the calendar by clicking the time. But still it’s a nice tool.
    My Arabic nickname is spelled it like it sounds, Hat, or maybe more like “nidjmah” if that helps any. I don’t know if the Modern Standard Arabic pronunciation is any different, that one is colloquial Levantine Arabic. The meaning–and Arabic names always have a meaning–is “star”. It was taken from the now defunct bedouin soap opera. The Nijma character is supposed to be a wise person who has the answers to life’s mystical questions, maybe like Ann Landers (how she annoys me) but the program was taken off the air before I had a chance to try to puzzle out which character that was. Of all my Arabic nicknames that one is my favorite, maybe because the others were given to me by males and have a romantic meaning behind them. Can you imagine someone shouting the literary equivalent of “Hey Juliet” at you across a crowded square from a balcony? This in a culture where a decent woman does not talk to any man she is not either related to or engaged to?–otherwise her safety may be jeopardized…
    The other day I wandered into a Salvation Army store and saw some wool felt hats. Remembering the blurb Mr. Hat has on his home page about his hats, and also my late husband’s fondness for a certain Panama, I couldn’t help but fondle, try them on and finally acquire them. So now I have a tan Doeskin hat by Geo. W Bollman, a tan Splendide cowboy hat, and a black Lancaster, all wool felt hats with brims as well as an unmarked hat probably also wool, that looks something like Father Guido Sarduci’s, but in cobalt blue. It only fits if cocked to the side, and would probably not look right without white gloves. The cowboy hat was the most disreputable with some bleached out looking spotty areas, so I immediately threw it in a bucket of hot soapy bleach. Of course it’s not blocked as nicely now, and I didn’t get the crease put back quite right, and the light colored spots still show, but it actually looks better than it did and it’s flattering too. When it finally dries, after another day or two, I’ll be able to wear it with my scruffy jeans when I mow the lawn. The remaining hats maybe I’ll just wipe with a damp sponge. I’m still not quite sure where women wear hats these days, but so far these have been a whole lot of fun.

  92. Oh dear, cross-posting. Here’s what I did with my character maps:
    In Vista: After dragging the character map to the desktop, I tried to drag it back and couldn’t. As soon as you click the icon on the desktop, the System Tools folder closes. So it looks like you can drag anything out, you just can’t drag it back in if you change your mind.
    In Windows XP: Thinking that if you copy to a thumb drive or external disk you make another copy rather than just moving the program, this time I tried dragging the character map to a removable disk. Then I checked the System Tools folder–it was gone. So I dragged it to the desktop. Now a copy remains in the thumb drive (but I think it’s just a shortcut) and another copy on the desktop. So it’s same-same. Might as well just drag it to the desktop to begin with. If you’re sure that’s what you really want. Haven’t checked this with the computer tech at work yet–sometimes if you have access to one for free, they have interesting comments (especially since moving the character map doesn’t seem to be reversible).

  93. More character map:
    here’s some instructions involving right click on program then paste on desktop
    or even better type ‘char’ in the new Start Menu Search box and it gives you the option to make a desktop shortcut:

  94. Nijma: Thanks for your explanation and for your charming story about the hats! And both men and women should wear them whenever and wherever possible; maybe we can bring back the fashion. (I made the mistake today of wearing a heavy black Stetson on an outing to a local park with the grandkids; the sun came out, it got very warm, and the four-year-old wanted to play baseball, so all in all a baseball cap would have made more sense.)
    As for the character map, I had the inspiration of right-clicking on it in my start menu (where it sits for a while after I bring it out of its cave) and by using the Copy function was able to add it to my desktop. Win-win!

  95. How do I add the character map to my desktop?
    After left-clicking on “start” and sliding to > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map, right-click on the “Character Map” button and in the menu that appears choose “Send To”, then left-click on “Desktop (create shortcut)”. It puts an icon straightaway on your desktop. (That’s for Windows XP; I don’t know about Vista but I believe there shouldn’t be too much of a difference.)
    Personally I prefer to have it in my Start Menu. To do so, after going through the steps mentioned above, you just need to left-click on the “Character Map” button, hold, drag it left to the menu and release.
    Pour sauter du coq à l’âne*:
    In a BBC article titled Italian call to use less English, the boss of a travel agency in Rome says: “It’s important to keep language clean”.
    My (silly) question would therefore be: What is a clean language? And if one needs to clean a (presumably dirty) language, how does he/she know that it’s now clean enough? (Needless to say I’m not very good at cleaning, and that angers my wife every now and then.)
    * not an ass here, as it may seem, but a duck, from Latin anas

  96. Actually, I suspect that the bad connotations of words relating to s*x come from:
    1. Prudery over s*x. Because of the past taboo on discussing s*x, especially in mixed company, and on the use of the words themselves, the words have tremendous shock value.
    2. The aggressive nature of the s*x act for the male. Unfortunately “I want to f**k you” has very aggressive overtones missing from “I want to make love to you”. It suggests violence and violation, not gentleness and pleasure.
    Just my personal take on the issue.

  97. aggressive overtones
    This fits with David Marjanović’s observation about expressing outrage with one syllable. Outrage and a big Yosemite Sam “back off”. But it doesn’t say much for American males’ bedroom moves. Might also explain why female usage of the f-word carries such a high social price.
    an Arabic j (=zh in the Levantine dialect
    I had always assumed the Arabic letters were always pronounced the same way every time, like Spanish and the Arabic “j” had–would you say a “hard sound”? like jump. After all I lived in Jerash جرش, where the “j” ج (had to try out the new character map icon) is definitely pronounced like jump. But just a few miles away (20 minutes by bus, so you can’t blame it on the northern accent) is the castle town of Ajloon عجلون, which has the j sound I think of as French, I think the “zh” that Mr. Hat is talking about. Ah, found my keyboard chart, here is the Arabic j from my Windows Vista keyboard ج –looks the same.

  98. character map:
    the unfortunate result of dragging this program to the desktop kept bothering me, so I went back and restored my operating system to Friday’s set point, then did a right click on the character map. My character map is now back in its rightful cave in the tools folder but with a proper desktop icon.

  99. the hats:
    yesterday the sun came out very briefly and I was able to mow the lawn–taking into account Mr. Hat’s advice about black hats and climate–with the aforementioned tan cowboy cat. My neighbor came outside, and I sensed a hitherto unknown respect creep into her voice as she saw me in the hat. She said, “I’ve never seen you in blue jeans before.” Much in the same way as when I get a haircut people ask me if I’ve lost weight.

  100. Hats work in mysterious ways their wonders to unfold!

  101. Signatus Sutor: What is a clean language?
    A certain amount of English can creep into Arabic. For instance, when talking on the phone, at the end of the conversion they say “yalla bye”. They don’t seem to notice it or mind. But there is a snobbishness about Modern Standard Arabic that is pervasive in the city, in the most remote village, everywhere. Modern Standard Arabic is not a real language in the sense that anyone speaks it. It’s a construct, probably to facilitate communication across the larger Arab world, and is used in graduate school and in newspapers. I loathe it. The latest when I was there was a crackdown on the use of colloquial Arabic in newspaper ads. Too may ads were using the phrase yalla meaning something like “let’s go” or “hurry up and come to the sale” which they said was not Modern Standard Arabic. In the future no ads would be accepted that used the sort of Arabic that could be understood by just anyone. Grrrr.
    Maybe also there is a religious element. Isn’t yalla a contraction for “ya Allah” or the evocative “O God”? If “woila?” for really offends some becasue it contains the name of Allah, maybe that’s the real reason they didn’t want to print it, without a nod to the Moslem Brotherhood “religious” zealot types that are not friendly to the government.

  102. The mysteries of hats, yes, I’m a believer.
    Today I tested the second black hat at the forest preserve. People usually ignore me, in the way that urbanites do to give each other privacy in a crowd, but today the walkers and joggers and inline skaters all said hello–and some very aggressively too, I might add. Much like the spambots who seem to find this thread every time the very word hat appears in it. (Hmm, maybe time to jump this thread.)
    Except for the people who were already wearing hats. None of them would even look me in the eye.
    So does wearing a hat make invisible people suddenly become visible to other people? If so, not good–being Scandinavian makes me shun the spotlight. I can see there are layers upon layers to this hat thing.

  103. Well – if you’re invisible it would mean that people saw a disembodied hat floating around in mid-air. I can see how that would cause discombobulation.
    I don’t like this spambot – but I guess it’s obvious where it got its inspiration this time.

  104. Egad, Sili, that means I’m still invisible and they were talking to the hat.
    I admit I clicked on one of the politically inspired bots–I’m a political junkie and love to follow the latest gender ping pong–but my operating system told me the site had been reported as one that deposits dangerous programs in computers. Yesterday the P.U.M.A.s also reported contracting viruses from some websites with political content.

  105. OK, guys, I’m closing this thread, because it’s attracting the bots like nobody’s business. But feel free to carry on your discussion in any open thread!

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