Monday, April 26, 2010

Cursing and swearing

Although it could, the title of today's post is not necessarily intended to describe my current state of mind or being.

Rather, it is referring to the class that I am preparing to teach. For Friday, I plan to have students in Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology read an excerpt from Jesse Sheidlower's The F-Word, which is a dictionary (published by Oxford University Press) of f-words, beginning with absofuckinglutely and ending with zipless fuck.

"The word fuck definitely did not originate as an acronym, as many people think," Sheidlower writes. So much for what you might have heard about the f-word's purported origins as "fornication under consent of the King" or "for unlawful carnal knowledge," which I think I remember hearing from, believe it or not, a CCD teacher. "In reality, fuck is a word of Germanic origin," Sheidlower tells us. "It is related to words in several other Germanic languages, such as Dutch, German, and Swedish, that have sexual meanings as well as meanings such as 'to strike' or 'to move back and forth.'"

Why is it that the f-word has come to be considered "cursing" or "swearing"?

Linguist Timothy Jay, in his book, Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech (2000), reminds us that cursing "refers to several uses of offensive speech. Technically speaking, [however,] cursing is wishing harm on a person (e.g., eat shit and die). But the term cursing is used comprehensively here to include categories such as: swearing, obscenity, profanity, blasphemy, name calling, insulting, verbal aggression, taboo speech, ethnic-racial slurs, vulgarity, slang, and scatology" (9).

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu, in The Anatomy of Swearing (1968), reminds us: "Swearing serves clearly definable social as well as personal purposes. A social purpose? But has not swearing always been socially condemned and proscribed? It has. And that is precisely the point. Because the early forms of swearing were often of a nature regarded as subversive of social and religious institutions, as when the names of the gods were profanely invoked, their use in such a manner was strictly forbidden" (1).

Fan-fucking-tastic, no?

No comments:

Post a Comment