Excellence in Swearing in 2021.

It’s time once again for Ben Zimmer’s annual Tucker Award post: “After another fucking exhausting year, it’s time once again for Strong Language to recognize the annual achievements in swearing.”

Best Fucking Swearing of 2021

We’ve run the numbers, and the pinnacle of profanity in this pandemic-weary year occurred in September when McSweeney’s published an instant classic by Wendy Molyneux entitled, “Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks.” […]

Best Fucking Swearing on Television (Non-Fiction)

We might be a tad biased, but nothing on our televisions in 2021 could outdo the Netflix documentary series The History of Swear Words, the first season of which debuted in January. With Nicolas Cage hosting and Strong Language’s own Kory Stamper as one of the talking heads, how could you go wrong? […]

Best Fucking Swearing in the Movies

(Beware, Matrix spoilers ahead!) The long-awaited sequel The Matrix Resurrections has some surprise appearances by characters from earlier in the franchise, like the Merovingian, aka the Frenchman (played by Lambert Wilson). In 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, the Merovingian explains why he chooses to speak French: “I have sampled every language, French is my favorite. Fantastic language. Especially to curse with. Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d’enculé de ta mère. It’s like wiping your ass with silk. I love it.” (Google Translate renders the French line as “God damn fuck you motherfucker motherfucker shit,” which lacks some nuance.) […]

Best Fucking Swearing for Civil Liberties

It’s always cheering to see the right to swear upheld as a civil liberty in the courts, and it’s especially cheering when a cheerleader is at the center of the legal action. In a case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court, Brandi Levy prevailed against administrators at her public high school in Pennsylvania, who suspended her from cheerleading after she posted a photo on Snapchat with the message, “Fuck school, fuck softball, fuck cheer, fuck everything.” But while it was rightly hailed as a free-speech victory, the case exposed how major U.S. media outlets continue to dance around profanity, even when it’s undeniably newsworthy.

Fuckin’ A! Lots more at the link, of course. (Tucker Awards previously at LH.)


  1. John Emerson says

    I think “fuck” tends to be relied on too heavily, notably by Miles Davis in his autobio (along with “motherfucker”). I used”fuck” judiciously and am especially fond of “pissant shitass”. But I quickly find myself running out of words and having to repeat some and am working on remedying that problem.

  2. First-order approximation (trying to use English swearwords with similar connotations): “Goddamn whorish shitty cathouse piece-of-shit motherfucking moron.”

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    You left out enculé (for reasons of delicacy?). Here is a link which provides full definitions for the corresponding verb, essential for conversing with French ladies and the better sort of francophone, and many examples of usage.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Enculé is a very inferior sort of obscenity, what with its dull etymological transparency and all.

    How much better the English equivalent, with its rich historical associations of horrible heresies (and their brutal suppression), seasoned with xenophobia! Those Bulgars stop at nothing!

  5. Those Bulgars stop at nothing!

    Yes; parboiled/steamed and dried and cracked.

    So kinky!

  6. David Marjanović says

    Oh, it is an abomination. Couscous is superior in every way.

  7. John Emerson says

    Most profanity seems to rely on either impiety, scatology, and lewdness. Are there any other categories.

    “I shit on the Virgin Mary’s cunt” strikes me as the maximal.triple threat.

  8. Lars Mathiesen says

    Horrible death — “pox take me” and so on. Did the Romans have rules against bad language in general on sacred ground? (Since being pro fanum might only serve to license impious speech, on the face of it).

  9. Yeah, there’s lots of disease-related swearing:

    You can use “cholera!” as a cathartic expletive in Polish (if you’re of an older generation) and you can wish cholera on someone in Thai. Much of the Dutch strong language makes use of cancer, cholera, and typhus; if you want to make something offensive in Dutch, just add kanker to it. – “cancer sufferer” is an extremely coarse insult. Poor health seems to upset the Dutch more than violations of the moral code.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Plus “corpse!” as an expletive in Mongolian, as I learned around here.

  11. Yiddish נבֿלה neveyle ‘carcass’, too; not an expletive, just a very uncomplimentary thing to call someone.

    For disease-related insults, English has “pest”.

  12. Huh, I hadn’t connected that with ‘pestilence.’ OED (updated June 2021) s.v. pest:

    2. figurative (originally Scottish). A person who or thing which is destructive, noxious, or troublesome; the bane of something. In later use also: an annoying person or thing; a nuisance.

    a1522 G. Douglas tr. Virgil Æneid (1960) xi. xv. 59 That this wench this vengeabill pest or trake Be bet dovn ded by my..strake.
    a1586 Ces, Hart in W. A. Craigie Maitland Folio MS. (1919) I. clxxix. 442 Eschewand plesour as ane pest.
    1610 King James VI & I Speach Whitehall xxj. March 1609 sig. B4 They that perswade them the contrary, are vipers, and pests, both against them and the Commonwealth.
    1755 S. Johnson Dict. Eng. Lang. Pref. C5 The great pest of speech is frequency of translation.
    1857 C. M. Yonge Cameos xlii, in Monthly Packet Aug. 115 Philippe IV, the Pest of France.
    1938 C. Calloway Hi De Ho 16 Jeff, a pest, a bore, an icky.
    1995 Denver Post 23 Apr. d4/1 Do become a regular phone visitor but don’t become a pest.

    Nice to see Cab Calloway in the OED!

  13. Well, pest and pestilence came separately into English from French, though they are ultimately connected, of course (L. pestis).

  14. I like “jeff” as an insult, too (though I have known some very nice Jeffs).

    (It’s short for Jefferson Davis!)

  15. David Marjanović: “Couscous is superior in every way.”

    Making табуле with anything but булгур is an abomination, especially couscous.

  16. Cab Calloway is often credited as the first Black American to write a dictionary, namely Cab Calloway’s Cat-ologue: A “Hepster’s” Dictionary, first published 1938. Very short (only about 12 pages), but prized as a record of under-documented slang. It has one of the earliest written attestations of square in the sense “not hip”, which must have been circulating orally for several years already. The OED currently cites various editions of this dictionary for the following words:
    the apple ‘Harlem, New York’
    fall out ‘to be overcome, as with emotion, shock, laughter, etc.’
    hard ‘excellent, impressive’
    mug (light, heavy) ‘to play swing’
    nod ‘sleep’
    orchestration ‘an overcoat’
    ready ‘well prepared; excellent’
    rock, v.
    salty ‘angry, irritated’
    sharp ‘well-dressed’
    trucking ‘dancing the truck’

  17. John Cowan says

    maximal triple threat

    “¡Me cago en la leche de la Virgen[*] María que te date la luz!”

    Of course there is my favorite insult (too subtle to use in practice) “Your parents were brothers!”

    [*] Note that this is a semicultismo: the cultismo is virgo, the native form would be *vercen.

  18. “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?”

  19. David Marjanović says

    I don’t like taboulé in the first place – I don’t like acid.

    “Your parents were brothers!”

    That… doesn’t work… unless one of them was a trans man…?

  20. John Cowan says

    That’s the point: it accuses you of being the product of homosexual incest, and by implication of being born from the anus of one of your fathers.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Ah. That requires a lot of quick creative thinking from the target.

    How about “your parents were brothers, and you’re too st00pid to understand that”…?

  22. Kronar was born of 100 generations free of the taint of woman. Until this particular Son of Kronar.

    (Oglaf, NSFW.)

  23. Finally got round to watching the History of Swear Words. Just great!
    I had a suspicion that Jim Jefferies sounded vaguely Australian, and he is.
    But what started a bell ringing was Nick Offerman. I had a feeling I’d come across him somewhere, but couldn’t place it. And then it dawned on me—Lagavulin! The Lagavulin Man -> the LagMan!
    And he does carpentry as a sideline, too!


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