Geoff Pullum has a post at the Log in which he painstakingly analyzes a sentence uttered at a concert by an exasperated Van Morrison. (I forgive Geoff his lack of appreciation of the great Belfast singer; as I wrote in a comment there, “I am a huge fan of his, but I can easily understand why his voice turns some people off.”) Warning: People offended by the f-word should not click on the link, which blasts it from both barrels in the very title, but they will be missing a fascinating and very funny discussion. Curse words, among their other interesting features, tend to muddy grammatical analysis.
Related only by the most tenuous of threads are the video linked by Dave Wilton at and the cartoon I link in the first comment, but I wanted to share them with you. (Thanks for the cartoon, tanahair!)
Addendum. And it turns out Jesse Sheidlower has a new edition of The F-Word coming out in September—read all about it!


  1. Yes, it was a comment on that posting that sent me back here, to the very interesting discussion on LOST FOR WORDS: II. — I had had no idea that it had grown so long.
    Do we have people here who are “offended by the f-word”?

  2. I was basically kidding about that, but there may be some, for all I know.

  3. I just happened to be in a library this week waiting for my car that was in the shop and happened to see an encyclopedia of swearing in the reference section. I leafed through it and just happened to look up the f-word, out of purely academic interest of course, and was interested to learn that the middle class does mostly find the f-word offensive.
    Beyond that, there are probably some people who occasionally use a computer at work to read blogs. Displaying certain kinds of materials or language on the job could be construed as harassment or creating a hostile work environment–which is what the NSFW label is for. Advance warning about that kind of content is at the very least a courtesy.

  4. I believe the f-word is acceptable in private conversation, but only providing both/all parties present are easy with it. I can’t remember whom, but some otherwise hard case in the UK recently said he didn’t mind it, but “wouldn’t use it in front of [his] mother”.
    That’s not a bad rule for any public occasion too, TV, concert, etc. Many people are still offended by it, as the BBC has been told on many occasions. I don’t think their usual argument – aleayd in general use – is acceptable.
    And I hate stand-up comedians using it for “shock value”. Just means they can’t be funny otherwise (and yes, I do know about Lenny Bruce).

  5. I leafed through it …and was interested to learn that the middle class does mostly find the f-word offensive.
    You don’t have to believe it just because it’s in a book, Nij. My mother doesn’t like the word ‘fuck’, I don’t object to it and nor does my daughter, so we both use it. In my opinion, it’s a generational thing: older women in particular sometimes find it offensive. It can also be a cultural thing (in my opinion): my wife is part of that group of Norwegians that doesn’t say ‘fuck’ or fa’en very often and it was only by seeing it used all the time on tv and in films that she was convinced that it was okay for our daughter to say it. And of course the daughter, who picked it up from tv, made up her own mind anyway.

  6. Bill Walderman says

    I’m not entirely comfortable with using it myself in conversations with others, and I rarely do. I guess that makes me middle-class. I do find it useful in appropriate situations of anger or frustration when I’m alone, though. Even after having been an enlisted man in the US Army for two years–this would have been forty years ago–I was appalled at the liberality with which the British soldiers lavished the participial form on their speech when I went on a maneuver with the Army of the Rhine. But today you hear it everywhere. I never heard my father, who was born in 1896 and quit school in the fifth grade, use the word (nor my mother, of course).

  7. None of my great-uncles of the same vintage as Bill’s father used it except one. He was a sheep farmer in Australia.
    I’ve just remembered a swearing euphemism used when I was young: blinking, used like ‘fucking’. You’re a blinking genius, Language. Why blinking? I haven’t heard it used in the past forty-odd years.

  8. dearieme says

    My father, born 1910, swore like a trooper, probably because he had been a trooper. But it was mainy bloody, bwgger, and the occasional bastard. No F or C. Nothing excretal either. But a fair bit of ChristAlmightying.
    (P.S. response to censorship obvious, I trust.)

  9. Yes, your father sounds like my mother, Dearie.

  10. John Emerson says

    My mom was all “darn” and “heck” and “sugar”.
    Off-topic: It’s surprising how often the two rare words “condone” and “compunction” appear in the same sentence, according to Google.

  11. one of the frequently used swear words in my language is ‘khuur-ee’ which sounds very rude and ear scratchingly, means corpse
    so people alleviate it saying khuudii – which means bag, like in shopping bags
    fword is used in the meaning of telling a lie, don’t f (bitgii sh..) – don’t lie like, but only really very vulgar speech use that f/swear words
    normally everyday language is free of swearing, b/c people pretty easily take offense i guess and hot-tempered :), but in the circle of one’s friends, especially if young males, maybe, their usage is the same as everywhere else
    i was pretty surprised to find here that swear words are so easily casually used, in media, mostly tv etc, in the streets and like got devaluated in meaning
    the people i work with, never heard them swearing

  12. around me at least, i meant
    basically one swears around the people one feels to be comfortable with i guess

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