Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 759

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

Sponsor’s Message: What does old school mean to you? “You’re welcome” instead of “No problem”? How about: saddle shoes. White handkerchiefs and white gloves. A hand-written note. Hitchhiking. Let us know -- we’re offering this week’s Email of the Week winner, Rachel Jensen (see below), as well as all you traditionistas out there the chance to tell us what you miss most about the world we are losing or have already lost. You may even win some of our authentic ludic loot, to boot. ENTER The Old’s Cool Contest NOW.

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the Net

The 2016 Word of the Year is “Dumpster Fire”
Business Insider

Why J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tradition of Creating Fantasy Languages Has Prevailed

Trump’s Rhetoric: A Triumph of Inarticulacy
The Guardian

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: This week’s comments

This week’s theme touched a nerve with readers and brought a barrage of comments. Also, as expected, many mailservers rejecting this week’s A.Word.A.Day with comments similar to this:

The IT department has automatically stopped an email sent by you because it contained profanity. The use of profane language contravenes the company’s email Acceptable Usage Policy.

We’re not sending this week’s reader comments in email to avoid blocking this issue of AWADmail.

From: Tom Furgas (tfurgas att.net)
Subject: Words that appear to be rude

When I was in high school a student used the word “asinine” regarding something he thought was stupid. The teacher sent him to the office for using foul language. The student almost immediately returned to class and handed a note to the teacher. He told me later it was a note from the principal informing the teacher that “asinine” was not a foul word. Nevertheless the teacher never apologized to the student.

Tom Furgas, Youngstown, Ohio

From: william pease (wpease mail.sdsu.edu)
Subject: cockup

Like other Americans I was startled with the British expression to keep your pecker up which seems to indicate something different to us here than to the Brits. Then there is the difference between “hard up” and “hard on”. The obsolescence of the term “ass” for a donkey might be attributed to another use of the same phoneme.

William J. Pease, San Diego, California

From: George Simons (diversophy gmail.com)
Subject: Mark Twain on profanity

Mark Twain on profanity -- a favorite of mine:

“Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”

Dr. George F. Simons, Mandelieu la Napoule, France

From: Sarah S. Sole (via website comments)
Subject: swearing

I heard of a grandma who was persuaded to join Facebook to keep up with the grandkids away in college. She sprinkled “WTF” so often, granddaughter called her mom to find out what Grandma thought that meant. Grandma said obviously it meant “What’s That For?” That makes sense to me.

Sarah S. Sole

From: Haluk Atamal (atamal ada.net.tr)
Subject: Re: Profanity

Speaking about profanity, we have a saying in Turkish, “Küfür ruhun yelpazesidir”, meaning swearing is the hand-held fan of the spirit. As the fan cools one on a hot day, so will swearing refresh the soul at times of stress.

Haluk Atamal, Antalya, Turkey

Email of the Week: Brought to you by OLD’S COOL -- Backward and Upward!

From: Rachel Jensen (jensenrachela gmail.com)
Subject: On profanity

Regarding profanity, as a pianist and professional accompanist of classical singers, I am an avid fan. I have found bad words to be absolutely essential to the profession. Many oaths and their zealous emission yield immense psychic enjoyment because they’re simply hilarious. Furthermore, they provide serious relief to frustration, frequently converting it to laughter. Moreover, there is the robust aesthetic dimension: the feel of the tongue and lips at the launch, the way the words explode upon contact with the ether, the startled smiles on the faces of those who witness the release! I think the personal use of foul language hurts no one, although one certainly has to consider the ears present in the immediate environs and choose one’s moments with caution.

I am not talking about language that discounts, demeans, or harms people. Nor am I speaking about words that bear the banner of willful ignorance, parade devotion to untruth, pretend to righteousness while concealing the truth, flaunt a commitment to manipulation out of self-interest, or feign height while stepping on the heads of those who struggle. Those words are obscene. To great alarm and grief, that kind of language is abundantly demonstrated in the person who is soon to be the president of the United States.

Rachel Jensen, Urbana, Illinois

From: Barry Palevitz (bpclaylover8 gmail.com)
Subject: Profanity

Remember from the 1983 film A Christmas Story, after Ralphie utters the word that wasn’t “fudge”, the adult Ralphie in voice-over notes that “He (his father) worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.” (audio, 8 sec.)

Barry A. Palevitz, Athens, Georgia

From: Julian Kerrell-Vaughan (kerrell_vaughan yahoo.com)
Subject: Profanity

My headmaster at school told us that using foul language/swearing was inarticulate and an indication of inadequacy. I tend to agree, although my own father used swearing almost poetically -- over-cooked vegetables had been “boiled to buggery”.

Julian Kerrell-Vaughan, Hong Kong

From: Marianne Artis (marianneartis gmail.com)
Subject: Swearing

My feeling is that regular swearing as part of daily speech is tedious and puts one off the swearer. But infrequent swearing under extreme provocation is highly effective. Swearing in its ultimate form, uttered with imagination and accompanied by foot stomping or door slamming, gets the desired attention but shouldn’t be done every year.

Marianne Artis, Bathurst, Australia

From: Srinivas Chari (srinivaschar gmail.com)
Subject: swearing

One of the nice things we could say about the use of profanity like f#ck is we know the person is being truly expressive and is not pretending or hiding his feelings.

Srinivas Chari, Chennai, India

From: Carrie Griffith (carrieleamckague gmail.com)
Subject: Profanity

My dad cussed like a sailor, and he always told me I could say anything I wanted as long as it didn’t hurt someone else. And swearing, he said, can hurt the ears of some people, so you have to learn how and when to use language so as never to hurt people.

I learned and can cuss with the best of them, but know how and when to rein it in!

Carrie Griffith, Austin, Texas

From: Steve Swift (steve.j.swift gmail.com)
Subject: Profanity

When I was working for IBM in the 1970s, swearing was a disciplinary offence. I recall two particular instances:

An IBM engineer friend of mine was working in the typing pool of a very valued customer. There were rows and rows of IBM punch card machines, each with a demure lady card puncher. The machines contained a capacitor which retained a 100V charge even after the machine was unplugged. Bob knew this well, but took a risk. He touched the live wire... and uttered a long “Fffffffffff”, then added “That was very trying”. :-)

Another colleague, Per Kristiansen, worked alongside me in programming. He made a small typing error and erased a large number of valuable files, and swore. He was disciplined, and from that day onwards uttered the phrase “Oh, Rude Words!” This rapidly caught on, and more than 40 years on, I still use the term when circumstances dictate.

Steve Swift, Alton, UK

From: Maja Foged (majafoged hotmail.com)
Subject: My f*ck

In Denmark we have a very relaxed attitude towards swearing and profanity. In fact, in 2011 the swearword sgu, a contraction of “saa” (so) and “gud” (god), was degraded (or upgraded, depending on the perspective, I guess), to a regular word and deprived of its status as a swearword because it had turned into an “everyday word” that everybody used without giving it much reflection.

But we also tend to have a very gentle look on the English F-word, which has been adopted into our everyday language and is used by everybody, everywhere. It is even part of the title of a book, ‘F*ing flink’, about how to be nice (flink). As a teacher, whenever I go with a class abroad, I always tell the students to keep in mind that others regard the word with more severity, but I know that it can be hard to remember simply because we use the word without thinking about it.

I try to make the students reflect on their language and choice of words but must also admit that different generations ascribe different qualities to the same words. After all, that is what makes language so interesting.

Maja-Stine Foged, Vejle, Denmark

From: MaryAnne Glazar (maryanneglazar48 gmail.com)
Subject: profanity

My current favorite swear work is “frack”, which I think is lots more obscene than that other F-word.

MaryAnne Glazar, Berkeley, California

From: Nelson (nelsonmybalo gmail.com)
Subject: Profanity

My primary source of news is the Guardian, from the UK. Their writers write words, including profanity, whole, without spaces, stars, and the like. And you know what? Once you’ve read a couple of them they hardly register anymore, at least not with me. Pretty much as those heard in everyday conversation don’t. Really, it’s refreshing to read English as it’s spoken, and especially so when people are being quoted. Perhaps some of their readers are shocked or offended. The more’s the pity for them. I’m 71 and doubt I’ll live long enough to see Americans use fully our language unselfconsciously and unashamedly. Words are for expressing our thoughts, which often enough are profane, and too-tender sensibilities call attention to themselves at, to some degree, the expense of the content of the written word.

Decades ago I saw in The New Yorker a two-panel cartoon. In the first panel, a guest on a TV talk show said “I don’t give a damn about (something).” In the second panel three people are watching the show at home. The offending word is bleeped out on the show, and each person watching has a different thought balloon above their head; “fuck”, “shit” and “piss”, each one “worse” than the censored word. Well, we always knew The New Yorker was written for adults. It’s time we all grew up.

Nelson, Ha Noi, Viet Nam

From: Alexander Gray (alexanderiangray hotmail.com)
Subject: A vote for profanity (in moderation, of course)

When a child is upset by some news or admonishment, a tantrum usually ensues -- they let out a Psycho scream, or throw themselves to the floor while pulling out their own hair. In contrast, when something goes wrong for an adult, the more socially accepted reaction is to issue a profanity. Uttering a heartfelt expletive is a healthy reaction. Imagine if adults reacted in the same way as children?!

Alexander Gray, Toronto, Canada

From: Alberta Daw (albertajdaw gmail.com)
Subject: Profanity

A child in my third grade class asked me about profane words: why do we have them, and where did they come from, and what makes them “bad words”. I told him that “bad” words were useful when you feel so mad at someone that you want to hit him! You say a bad word instead of hitting him.

Alberta Daw, Kansas City, Missouri

From: Christine Fairbanks (chflists yahoo.com)
Subject: swearing

I learned from Grandpa, who was a master. He had some wonderful phrases, which were used in only the worst of circumstances, and I’ve used the best of them only two or three times. I had caught the seatbelt of my car under the door and went over to Grandpa to see if he could get it loose. He swore through the whole operation, a lot of “hell”, “damn”, and “goddamn”, but when he finished he looked at me and said that this job was a “cross between a bastard and a son of a bitch.” A friend who had come with me was rolling on the ground she was laughing so hard. That is the one and only time I have seen somebody do that literally, not figuratively.

I had to undo a lot of a knitting project a few weeks ago due to a horrible mistake -- I was swearing in French, English, and Spanish.

Christine Fairbanks, Silver City, New Mexico

From: Sue Hand (suehand nii.net)
Subject: four-letter words and women

I love those four-letter words -- no other words express the depths of disgust or irritation that they convey -- which I try to use in the “right” places and times, though they sometimes spill out in the wrong places, such as the launch at the hoity-toity yacht club when my straw hat blew off my head and away and I yelled “Sh*t!” There were children in the launch. Boy, did I receive cold stares from their parents!

But I still swear by (pun intended) my beloved four-letter words. Good Anglo-Saxon words -- direct and with a satisfying punch. Women are -- or were -- maybe times have changed -- discouraged from using them, however, so they traditionally have belonged mostly to men. That is a f*king sin! They should be available to all and maybe are, by 2017. At any rate now I will have safe ones, like cockup to use in “polite” company.

Sue Hand, Beverly, Massachusetts

From: Susan Kershner (suzannasinister hotmail.com)
Subject: curse words

I tend to use regular words in a cursing fashion, i.e. “son of a pickle” and other far more silly expressions. My granddaughter one day said, “Grandma, just say SOB, say it grandma, just say it!” I almost died laughing and for her sake said: “Son of a Bitch!”

Susan Kershner, St. Louis, Missouri

From: Mim Scalin (mim4art gmail.com)
Subject: Profanity

It wasn’t permitted in my childhood home. It’s the only thing my father was very adamant about. He learned English at age ten, read the dictionary for fun, and said that there were so many good words to use one didn’t need profanity. My mother said “Oh, nuts and little fishes.”

I started using the F-word in college. I loved using it. My husband of 50 years says that he found me fascinating because I swore. I still do, though monitored myself around our children when they were growing up and now around the three-year-old grandgirl. My son and husband do not use profanity. My daughter and I do. Go figure.

Mim Scalin, Richmond, Virginia

From: Ruth E. Richards (rerichards cox.net)
Subject: I taught my children to swear

Since I knew I could never give up those great words, I decided to teach my two little ones their proper use. The operating principle was that they were perfectly good words so let’s learn to use them correctly. And, correctly is knowing when NOT to use them. Other people may be offended by their use, so if ever another person calls to complain about your language, you are in serious trouble. And, overuse shows a lack of vocabulary and laziness of thought.

Only once did a mother call to complain about my six-year-old’s use of the word f#*k. And both children raised their own children with the same liberal appreciation for profanity.

Ruth E. Richards, Tulsa, Oklahoma

From: Kit Crowne (kcrowne2 snet.net)
Subject: Profanity

My father was a most learned man and had a remarkable affection for words, both as an author and a speaker. Despite this, he was also the most profane person I knew, frequently peppering our family interactions with one invective or another. It always made him sound angry -- and indeed he often was -- and created friction with us, his audience. I’m no prissy -- I certainly find myself swearing on occasion -- but use it less as punctuation and more for purpose (or so I would like to believe).

Kit Crowne, Rockville, Connecticut

From: Peggy Issenman (peggy peggyandco.ca)
Subject: Profane words

I grew up in Quebec and the French-Canadian swear words are mostly related to the church -- tabarnak (the tabernacle), calisse (chalice), osti (the host), jesu crisse -- this last one was a favourite of my dad’s who was Jewish. Would be great to learn how other cultures profane (can I use that as a verb?)

Peggy Issenman, Halifax, Canada

From: Ginette Beaupre (beaupre.ginette gmail.com)
Subject: Swearing in Québec, Canada

It may not bring family together in Québec, but the choice of swear words definitely pinpoints a person as coming from French Canada rather than some other nation in which French is spoken.

In Québec -- the French-Canadian province -- rather than scatological (sh*t), or physical (a**hole) terms, the primary swear words are religious in nature -- something not heard in other French-speaking cultures.

Historically, French-Canadians were severely oppressed by the Catholic church; among other things, it was illegal to stop having children or to use any method of contraception; any person who did not pay yearly alms to the church could not buy a home or could lose their home; the village priest was not above the law -- he WAS the law, and was greatly feared because he could take whatever he wanted from one person to give it to another person who promised to give greater alms. This kept the French Québec population menial, as any family with 20 or 21 kids could barely afford to feed them, let alone educate them, and both the Church and the English Québec population profited tremendously from the arrangement. Our revolution came, but that is a different story; today we discuss swear words.

In the creation of swear words, people use bad things, evil things, disgusting words, and consequently, French-Canadian people started using religious terms as profanity, for though they strongly believed in God, it was the earthly artefacts of His representatives that were the symbols of their oppression. This gave rise to the following swear words used by people in Québec (Except my Granny; Granny never swore. HA!)

Estie (from ostie, the communion wafer)
Câlisse (the communion chalice/goblet)
Tabarnac (from tabernacle, the chest that holds the communion-wafer vase)
Ciboire (the vase that holds the communion wafers)
Crisse (Christ)
Jésus-cri (Jesus Christ)
Enfant d’coeur (alter boy)

When a person is very angry, the first three are nearly always used in a set succession, i.e. “Estie de calice de tabarnac!!”. They are also used singly as derogatory terms for women and men. Ciboire is most often used in frustration; a form of low-key swear word, i.e., “Ciboire, the cat hacked up a fur-ball on the carpet again.” The last three are most often used as derogatory terms when speaking to men. Someone using all seven of them in a row is a sign that it’s time to turn around and flee the scene. HA!

Ginette Beaupré, Laval, Canada

From: Antoinette Constable (n21et1 gmail.com)
Subject: The F-word

Many years ago I left Paris and France for Edinburgh, Scotland, to take nursing training. I had learned English during a couple of summer vacations in England and had taken English in high school, but was completely unaware of Scottish English and its accent.

One day, a group of student nurses took me to see the seals at the nearest beach.
“Oh,” I cried, “des foques!”
I was asked to repeat what I had said. I did. Again, and again. The young women laughed till they cried, delighted by their prank, while it took me a while to understand the cause of their hilarity.

Antoinette Constable, Oakland, California

From: Fred Hall (87fredh gmail.com)
Subject: use of profanity

Often the first words that return to a stroke victim with speech aphasia are profanities, suggesting that they are easily accessible but normally suppressed when the brain is fully functional. In times of severe stress they are likewise often the first words to emerge, suggesting that they do carry some sort of emotional release.

Ways to circumvent their use can be found in many cultures by having a substitute ready to slip in. For example, SH*T once started can be quickly converted to SUGA! F*CK can be converted to FUDGE or something similar. There is even a website to help children with this problem.

Fred Hall, Toronto, Canada

From: Gregory Frank Gallardo (gallardo berkeley.edu)
Subject: swear words

Having spent a couple of decades in the Navy, I consider myself rather well-qualified in the art of profanity. I can, that is, curse like a sailor. (Though perhaps not to the level of a fishwife.) A couple of thoughts about profanity:

Perhaps more than other words, profanity loses its strength through repetition. Constant dropping of F-bombs has less shock value than a single well-delivered F**k. (I tried to impress this idea on my high school daughter, with perhaps a glimmer of success.)

Euphemisms for profanity, serving the same purpose as profanity, are as much an expletive as the original word. Saying Fudge rather than F**k or Shoot rather than Sh*t is cursing nonetheless. If it is not acceptable to say what one means then one should not use the euphemism, either.

Gregory Frank Gallardo, Reston, Virginia

From: Alice Rood (bugadr yahoo.com)
Subject: Profanity

My mother did a good job of curbing my use of profanity when I was younger. The use of a bar of Ivory soap was very effective. A few years in the Army in the mid-80s didn't cause me to start cursing, though the F-bomb was used as every part of speech imaginable -- and a few that weren't -- when I was in the service. After the Army, for a reason I cannot explain, I started cursing like a sailor. It's not something I'm proud of, but I can't seem to shake it.

Alice Rood, Fairfax, Virginia

From: Helen Griffin (troysgoldenapples gmail.com)
Subject: Bad words

My sister lives in Japan, Japanese is the first language of her kids, and they come to the US every year. My daughter thought they could learn English sans all the expletives! Age seven or so, my nephew had a small litany: “Shit is a bad word. You are not supposed to say it. But if you drop the hammer and it lands on your toes, you can say ‘Oh Shit’. And if you promise to drop off the dirty clothes at the dry cleaners when you pick up the clean ones, and then forget to take the dirty ones, then you can say ‘Oh shit!’”

Every year the litany got longer and longer as he memorialized each instance that he heard. He perfected the litany into a routine that would work at a comedy club!

Helen Griffin, Rego Park, New York

From: Richard Marriner (Richard.Marriner maine.gov)
Subject: Swearing and spoonerism

According to my wife and kids, my most infamous faux pas (which must be French for dropping the F bomb) was uttered at a low moment during the worst day of one of the most stressful family disruptions of my military career. We were moving from Edmonds, Washington, to Miami, Florida, and having a difficult time finding a place to rent that matched our expectations and budget. Middle school and my job at my new assignment were to start soon but desperate days of driving around had been difficult and unfruitful. It was dawning on us all that we were going to have to settle for something less than what we considered optimal. After one more long and discouraging morning that stretched into mid-afternoon, our collective blood sugar levels had dropped into the danger zone. My wife and I had already berated each other and just about everyone and everything associated with the move so far. Finally, we began to hotly explore whether and where to stop for lunch. Another decision to make and another dilemma! That triggered my climactic explosion. I suddenly pulled our van hard right into a parking lot and pronounced that, “We’re going to Dud-F***ers dammit!” Now, at every Fuddruckers restaurant we pass, it’s not the foot-long chili dogs we recall, but those first few frantic days in effing Miami when two newly minted “tweens” learned their Dad and Mom were only human.

Rick Marriner, Augusta, Maine

From: Paddy Hernon (paddy tallship.ca)
Subject: Cock Up Your Beaver

As you may know, the word “beaver” is slang for a woman’s genitalia. Imagine my surprise when I first encountered the traditional fiddle tune, “Cock Up Your Beaver”. It took a moment to realize the “beaver” in question was a hat.

Paddy Hernon, Victoria, Canada

From: Jane Ellison (mynameisjanee yahoo.com)
Subject: profanity

Interesting that swearing unites a family. I can see that. Howsoever, as a follower of neuroplasticity research, I must point out that it has been clearly demonstrated that words do change your brain. Negative speech, profanity, makes for an unhealthy lens through which to view the world.

Jane Ellison, Cleveland, Ohio

From: John P Tuohey (johnnpam comcast.net)
Subject: Is cursing sinning?

When I was a Franciscan seminarian, a student asked a priest one day if cursing (the profane type, not the pox upon your house kind) was a sin. The priest answered that it was not, but that it was the language of the unrefined and would identify us as belonging to that class if we routinely used it. Sadly, I identify with that class all too often.

John P Tuohey, Manchester, New Hampshire

From: Ava Torre-Bueno (avatb3 gmail.com)
Subject: swearing

My father was a major swearer when he was distressed in any way. I spoke very early (under a year) and I’m certain my first phrase was “god damn fucking shit” because that was my dad’s go-to phrase. My mom looks vague and changes the subject when I mention this.

Ava Torre-Bueno, San Diego, California

From: Tony Shaw (tonyshaw kolumbus.fi)
Subject: More swearing

I wonder if you know of the English “Sugar!” Said with vehemence and a strong first phoneme, it releases plenty of angst! I wonder if the similar “Gordon Bennett!” would fit in the same category of innocent words denoted and expressed with emotional load??

Tony Shaw, Helsinki, Finland

From: Sally M. Chetwynd (brasscastlearts gmail.com)
Subject: swearing

A colleague of mine suffers from unfortunate Internet censoring of “foul” language because his email address at work includes (within the company name) “ass” (within “associates”) and “cock” (which letters are included in that order within the company founder’s name) and his last name is “dick”. Much of his professional correspondence goes undelivered, and there’s not a thing he or the company can do about it. Others there with only the first two don’t have as much of a problem -- maybe the censors become especially aggrieved over the addition of the third offense.

Sally M. Chetwynd, Wakefield, Massachusetts

From: Ann Appleton (appleannie5240 gmail.com)
Subject: profanity

I find profanity offensive whether I hear it or see it in print. I know that this is a very judgmental position and has caused me to refuse to read some good books. However, we all are products of our environment, and no one in my family swore as I was growing up, and neither my husband nor I use “four-letter words”. Because I am uncomfortable around profanity, I tend to stay away from people or print sources where such language is used. Lest you think I am a right-wing radical, I need to tell you that even though we are conservative in our personal life, we are politically liberal.

Ann Appleton, Solana Beach, California

From: Royce Froehlich (royce pipeline.com)
Subject: Profanity

While language/words generally “live” in the left (logical) half of the brain, curse or swear words locate themselves in the right-brain hemisphere, where the emotions are processed. Even the brain knows that these particular utterances are of a different order and communicate a special feeling beyond words.

Royce Froehlich, Rego Park, New York

From: Dale Antanitus (dastan aol.com)
Subject: Profanity

Profanity is known to many neurologists as “limbic speech”, that part of the brain closely associated with all forms of emotion. It is often the only speech preserved after a massive stroke to the left hemisphere of the brain and is often thought to be preserved because its origin is the result of mood and emotions rather than analytical communication. Such a person uttering these words after a stroke is embarrassed because of the word’s connotations but still glad that they can at least say something. Profanity is a fundamental part of our communication mechanisms but it lives and survives on a different neurological plane. Profanity is part of us.

Dale Antanitus, Carlisle, Massachusetts

From: Timothy Johnson (tjohnson0610 gmail.com)
Subject: Words that sound dirty but aren’t

This week’s subject reminds me of The Count Censored (2 min.) and Jimmy Kimmel’s This Week in Unnecessary Censorship (2 min.). Both are “censored” but possibly NSFW.

Tim Johnson, Chicago, Illinois

From: Patricia Backlund (kitchqueen hotmail.com)
Subject: Foul language

“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)

Patricia Backlund, Redmond, Washington

From: Fionnuala McHugh (fmchugh netvigator.com)
Subject: future cock-ups

The Chinese Year of the Monkey is now in its last few weeks. According to Chinese astrology, each of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac takes it in turn to impart its particular characteristics to the lunar calendar. This brilliantly explains the many simian shenanigans (Brexit, President-elect Trump) we’ve experienced in past months: it’s all been monkey business. The next Lunar New Year, which begins on January 28, is the Year of the Rooster. Today’s word of the day is not encouraging.

Fionnuala McHugh, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong

From: Mark Slonim (mdtas224 gmail.com)
Subject: profanity

When my son was just starting to speak, he would hear me say f--- whenever my beeper would go off. Finally, one day, he pointed to the beeper and said “That’s daddy’s f---.” I stopped using the word for a few weeks.

When i have learned foreign languages (I learned them as an adult), the teachers always had a list of dirty/blue words. I found no interest in them as there was no emotional release using foreign curse words.

A study a the University of Cambridge by David Stillwell found that “people who swear are more sincere and less likely to lie”. He said that people who filter out curses also tend to filter the truth.

Mark Slonim, Lo Jolla, California

From: Nora Francis (narf shaw.ca)
Subject: cockup, etc.

How serendipitous that you would chose this word today! Here in Canada our revered Canada Post has come out with new stamps honouring Chinese New Year. And yesterday I sent the following to my three brothers and my two kids:

I do so know how to restrain myself--
I can so be the Lady others know me as...

sometimes too much restraint causes damaging explosion:
and so I am asking your understanding as I have to release some of it:

did you know that this is The Year of the Cock??
I was at the local post office, and there it was:
Pictured on stamps:
L’année du coq
no -- I did not, awaiting my turn in line, make loud gasp and comment.
and, no, I did not buy any of the stamps to prove it to you (they were too expensive in books and Melvyn said they had no singles)

but please please believe me and allow this very minor release of the pressure building building building inside this frail bod ...

My little notice elicited the expected response from my son :”la-la-la-la-la” and my younger brothers have entered into the expected “sibling revelry”.

But I expect that you -- oh my comforting A.Word.A.Day people -- will understand my confusion learning that although I am expected to behave with decorum, think decorously, be decorate -- others are apparently allowed -- nay, encouraged by The Holy Postal System -- to talk openly of cocks...

Holy Coq!!!

Nora Francis, Dinosaur, Vancouver, Canada

From: Alex McCrae (ajmccrae277 gmail.com)
Subject: cockup and pricket

Well Olie, here's another nice cockup you've gotten me into!
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the beloved slapstick comedy duo, Laurel & Hardy, were world renowned for their zany on-screen antics in the pioneering era of B&W film.

Curiously, their classic line that arose in several of their movies was slightly altered by film critics and scribes of their day, where “... another nice mess you’ve gotten me (or us) into.” was often misquoted as “a fine mess...”. A rather picky point, but worth noting, nonetheless.

Tyrus Wong
As a former animation artist, I felt moved to do a tribute piece celebrating the key background designer on the early Disney animated feature, Bambi, the ground-breaking Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong, who sadly passed last December at the astounding age of 106.

Here, Bambi is in his “pricket” growth phase, on his way to full “stag-hood”. Wong was likely flying his self-designed kites at Santa Monica Beach, CA, into his final months. Art was his first and abiding passion, yet designing and flying his kites likely came a close second. A life lived to its very fullest.

Alex McCrae, Van Nuys, California

From: James Polichak (jameswpolichak gmail.com)
Subject: Long Island special rules

When it comes to use of foul language, we Long Islanders feel like we need special rules due to our heritage. We may be JD/PhD professionals, presidents of departments in government agencies, tenured professors, but we all use “f*ck”, “f*cker” and finally, “motherf*cker”, or their verb counterparts, on a regular basis.

We generally don’t use these words to insult other people. We use them toward objects, toward situations, and toward the self. You drop your pen, “f*ck!” comes out. Your pen won’t write when it clearly still has ink in it, or maybe not. Either way, that pen is a “f*cker”. Probably a “little f*cker”. While trying to get that little f*cker of a pen to work, you knock over a cup of coffee. As you watch the cup fall from the desk to the floor, you say “mother*cker”. How long it takes to say the word depends on the event that caused the exclamation. Very slowly as you realize that you may have forgotten something that you previously had made an effort to not forget. Very quickly when you slip and fall on ice.

But these things happen in mixed company. They are also very hard to suppress, because the most frequent use of them is when you are alone. It doesn’t matter if no one is with you when a key won’t open a door. That key, or that door lock, or both in cahoots, are little f*ckers who will graduate to motherf*ckers if they persist in malfunctioning. Then when you notice you’re using the wrong key, the f*ck is directed at you.

Unfortunately, they may often be used sympathetically. If someone else is dealing with the f*cking key, it is still a f*cker to you as well. Those situations just f*cking suck no matter who it happens to.

I blame Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. But the f*cking damage is done. I grew up on Long Island. If you insist on saying “in” Long Island, though, you will find the “f*ck” is addressed to you.

James W. Polichak, PhD, JD, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Abbe Rolnick (abbe abberolnick.com)
Subject: swearing

I’ve always been uncomfortable with swearing. Somehow it made me feel unclean. However, when I lived in Puerto Rico, my best friend, Angie (named after an angel and looked the part) often expounded words in Spanish when annoyed or angry. She said them sweetly, with innocence and sincerity. Learning by listening, I too began to use these words. One time at a formal gathering at my ex-husband’s business meeting, I dropped a bowl of soup on my lap. I spewed Angie’s words without a thought. A hush lay over the room. Even the waiters stared. My husband ushered me out of the room, and asked me if I knew what I was saying. It had something to with eating a man’s sexual organs. Hmm, but years later back in the States, I occasionally swore in Spanish, knowing exactly what I was saying. To this day my children question and they know enough to look up the translation.

Abbe Rolnick, Sedro Woolley, Washington

From: Jaswant Singh (jaswant.singh citi.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--cockup

Reminds me of my son when he was about three -- my hockey team, consisting of men and women, were sitting around at a long table in the club’s sports bar having beer after hockey, and we had ordered some food. When the food came, my three-year-old suddenly from across the table asked me, “Papa, may I have a fark (he meant fork), please?” Lo and behold, all went silent and I immediately responded, “No, son, I need it more than you” and everyone burst out laughing. My boy is now 12 and we still laugh about the incident. Yes, profanity does play its part now and then, but the good thing is I have not heard my two boys swear, but I won’t be surprised if the words fly around in the company of their friends.

Jaswant Singh, Selangor, Malaysia

From: Kathy Borst (kborst mcn.org)
Subject: F_ _ _

And then there’s the old joke:

Q: What starts with F and ends with u-c-k?
A: Fire truck

Kathy Borst, Yorkville, California

From: Roger VanHaren (rjmavh gmail.com)
Subject: Swearing

Mark Twain once said: “If I cannot swear in heaven, I shall not go.”

Roger VanHaren, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

From: Shawn Shafner (shawnshafner gmail.com)
Subject: profanity and swearing

Thanks for covering this topic! It’s really close to my heart, and even more so my colon, as founder of The People’s Own Organic Power Project, or The POOP Project. We’re all about using art and education to break down the potty taboo, normalize the doo we do, and stimulate creative conversations about sustainable sanitation for the person, planet, and world community. We’ve been encouraging people to lift the lid since 2010, employing theatre (like the hit show An Inconvenient Poop), documentary film Flush, a monthly podcast (SHHH, aka S**t and Shame with Shawn, and more.

Across the sanitation sector, the stigma around discussing excrement is a major hindrance to progress. Harvard linguist Steven Pinker, in The Stuff of Thought, charts the proliferation of English words used to reference feces and points out that we lack a neutral, conversational term. If we can’t talk about it, we can’t fix it.

40% of the world’s people still lack access to safe sanitation, erecting barriers to health and prosperity. Access to public toilets has historically been used to control who has access to public space, and the politics of who gets to pee and where, is again of great concern. Toilets, in their ability to render our output invisible, reinforce consumer culture by putting our own bodies at the center of a “resource to waste” flow, rather than placing us as one link in a cyclical resource chain. Once it disappears, modern sewerage and wastewater treatment practices often pollute our waterways with the same nitrogen and phosphorus that could be fertilizing our fields in place of mined resources.

We all know that everybody poops, Good news! New and fun bathroom products, scientific discoveries like fecal transplants, and growing focus on international sanitation are all changing the conversation. But to get out of the water closet, we all have to push together. The more we talk about it, the more it becomes a thing we can talk about. It doesn’t matter what word you choose -- dung, ordure, stool, or 💩. Just keep the conversation moving! And #GoProud

Shawn Shafner, New York, New York

From: Molly Gardner (gmolly comcast.net)
Subject: crapulous

I was listening to the new, widely acclaimed novel, The Sympathizer, while stuck in horrific traffic in a snow storm on both I70 and Hwy 40 in the mountains on Sunday. I had a LOT of time to concentrate on this novel through my earbuds. There were so many references in the book to the “crapulent major” that I thought I must be hearing it wrong.

I thought crapulent was an adjective meaning overweight, dissipated, or drunken, but the usage in the novel was so repetitive that I came to believe there was a type of major called a “crapulent major”, which, while it seemed funny and odd, was a better explanation than that the editor allowed for the unwavering, relentless use of a specific adjective.

I was so obsessed with this conundrum that I pulled over in a snowstorm on the top of Berthoud Pass in hopes of getting a 4G signal and a chance to look up “crapulent major”. Surely it was like “under sergeant” or “second lieutenant” or “petty officer”? But no signal was forthcoming and I continued my journey. You can imagine my delight, 36 hours later, ensconced in a cozy cabin, as the snow and the wind continue to wail, to find you had chosen “crapulous” as your word to enlighten us with. I am still pondering the editorial choice of such repetition in the midst of an otherwise intriguing novel.

Molly Gardner, Boulder, Colorado

From: Antoinette Constable (n21et1 gmail.com)
Subject: Crapulous

Une crapule, in French, is a thoroughly dishonest and reprehensible person, the kind the police love to lay their hands on. It’s always used as a feminine.

Antoinette Constable, Oakland, California

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Anagrams of this week’s words

1. cockup
2. crapulous
3. pricket
4. fard
5. cunctation
= 1. upturn
2. drunk
3. a pick
4. face colour
5. cop’s tactic
= 1. ace fuckup
2. cut and sick
3. pin
4. colour
5. protract
= 1. rip, curl
2. cuckoo
3. a spike
4. fun product
5. can’t act
= 1. curl
2. “Cud crap,” I croak.
3. point
4. put on face
5. stuck
    -Dharam Khalsa, Burlington, North Carolina (dharamkk2 gmail.com)   -Robert Jordan, Lampang, Thailand (alfiesdad ymail.com)   -Josiah Winslow, West Allis, Wisconsin (josiah12301 yahoo.com)   -John Ramos, Duluth, Minnesota (jramos shiningreputation.com)

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Limericks

It didn’t help get his stock up,
Because unfortunate cockup,
Forgetting the sheath,
To gal would bequeath,
A quite unexpected knock-up.
-Chris Papa, Colts Neck, New Jersey (doxite verizon.net)

While trying to wind the old clock up,
she finds its insides are all blocked up
by mice. “What a shame!”
the nice lady exclaims.
“It’s a hickory-dickory cockup!”
-Anne Thomas, Sedona, Arizona (antom earthlink.net)

What a word! And so boldly in print.
Started out with no thought but a splint.
It began as a mock-up,
Which I titled a cock-up.
Did I mean to be rude, No, I di’n’t.
(A cock-up splint is a device to treat carpal tunnel syndrome)
-Fred Jonas, Biscayne Park, Florida (fredjonasmd gmail.com)

The crapulous king of the press
Is down at the pub under stress
His Saturday’s mock-up
Became Sunday’s cockup;
Now the subs have to clear up the mess.
-Mike Parsley, Malaga, Spain (slussen2 gmail.com)

When Newton invented the calculus,
Mathematicians retired the abacus.
They put on a do
Celebrating the coup
And next day felt a teeny bit crapulous.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

A cockup from scotch and water,
Is something you nae ought-a.
With a crapulous head,
You may wish you were dead,
Or had quickly succumbed in a slaughter.
-C. William Elliott, Sarasota, Florida (sevenports msn.com)

Bambi once caught his head in a thicket.
“It’s a good thing I’m not yet a pricket ...
thought he, pulling free.
“Sure is lucky for me
or, gee, this would be a sticky wicket.”
-Zelda Dvoretzky, Haifa, Israel (zeldahaifa gmail.com)

Said Beauty, “This curse, I will lick it,”
But wounded her hand on a pricket;
All fell in a heap
And a very deep sleep,
And the place was enclosed by a thicket.
-Lawrence Crumb, Eugene, Oregon (lcrumb uoregon.edu)

“As I carefully consider my pricket,
And muse on which taper to stick it,
I’ll first try a mockup,
To avoid a foul cockup...
And result in a sad sticky wicket!”
-Alan Shoemaker (alan.m.shoemaker gmail.com)

A girl tends to feel a bit jarred
When her face by a zit has been marred.
To her mother she’ll cry,
“How I wish I could die!”
But says Mom, “Dear, we’ll put on some fard.”
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

A stunning young thing from Savoyard
Fell in love with a rhapsodic bard.
He would recite his prose
While she powdered her nose,
Which was part of her day-to-day fard.
-Judith Marks-White, Westport, Connecticut (joodthmw gmail.com)

In India, lengthy cunctation
Is the rule, not an odd aberration.
My travels by train
Make me go half insane.
But at least I’ll miss Trump’s ’nauguration.
-Steve Benko, New York, New York (stevebenko1 gmail.com)

I really delight in cunctation.
Procrastinate and I feel elation.
Why do it today
When tomorrow’s okay?
Even next week’s a temptation.
-Kathy Deutsch, Melbourne, Australia (kathy deutsch.net.au)

Words that sound rude, but are not.
A favorite one I have got.
I like to say, “frigate”,
As curse word, I dig it.
Fun to say, and hits the spot.
-Joan Perrin, Port Jefferson Station, New York (perrinjoan aol.com)

From: Phil Graham (pgraham1946 cox.net)
Subject: Sound dirty but aren’t? Not necessarily!

President Eisenhower had a cockupmamie marriage.

The small casino had no dice tables so I tried the buffet and left doubly crapulous.

The thorniest fighting that a rose at Gettysburg was Pricket’s Charge.

(Spoken with an Okie drawl): “Who fard that shot?!” Sheepish reply of, “I fard it.”

Being electrically subdued by a female cop, the drunk yelled, “Why’s that cunctation me?!”

Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But, conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right. -Martin Luther King, Jr., civil-rights leader (15 Jan 1929-1968)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2024 Wordsmith