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kottke.org posts about swearing

The NY Times and the truth of profanity

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

When the story about Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke, the NY Times took the unusual step of publishing exactly what the presidential candidate said.

In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.

“You can do anything,” Mr. Trump says.

He also said he was compulsively drawn to kissing beautiful women “like a magnet” — “I don’t even wait” — and talked about plotting to seduce the married woman by taking her furniture shopping. Mr. Trump, who was 59 at the time he made the remarks, went on to disparage the woman, whom he did not name, saying, “I did try and fuck her. She was married,” and saying, “She’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

It was unusual because of the Times’ policy of not printing profanity, even if the profane words themselves are newsworthy. In this case, the editors felt they had no choice but to print the actual words spoken by Trump.

In piece published earlier the same day the Trump story broke, Blake Eskin, who has been tracking the Times’ non-use of profanity at Fit to Print, highlights the racial and classist implications of the policy.

As I’ve noticed over the years while documenting how the Times writes around profanity, a lot of the expletives the Times avoids come up around race: in stories about hip-hop, professional sports, and police shootings. (I’m getting all the data into a spreadsheet so I can back up this assertion.)

The Times seems compelled both to tell readers that people curse in these contexts and to frown upon it.

It’s as if profanity is like a sack dance or a bat flip, a classless flourish that the archetypal Times reader, who is presumably white, can take vicarious pleasure in without having to perform it himself.

You cannot tell authentic stories about people who are systematically discriminated against in our society without using their actual words and the actual words spoken against them related to that discrimination. Full stop.

Update: Eskin wrote a follow-up about his data analysis of the NY Times profanity avoidance for Quartz.

The “other” category includes faux-folksy formulations such as “a word more pungent than ‘slop,’” and “a stronger version of the phrase ‘gol darn,’” as well as the straightforward, “He swore.” When I began the Fit to Print project, I could enjoy the cleverness of some of these contortions. But after reading through hundreds of examples over several years, expletive avoidance no longer strikes me as an interesting puzzle for a writer to solve. The policy just seems prissy, arbitrary, and delusional.

The more I think about the Times’ policy, the more absurd it becomes. There seems to be a relatively simple solution: if the profanity does work in the service of journalism — particularly if the entire article is about the profanity in question — print it. It is doesn’t, don’t. I mean, are Times editors afraid their reporters will start handing in articles with ledes like “Well, this fucking election is finally winding down, thank Christ.”?

We Work Remotely

Boston Dynamics tests new swearing robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2016

In addition to robots that run fast, can’t be knocked over, launch themselves 30 feet into the air, and climb up walls, Boston Dynamics also makes robots who move like people. Now, imagine if that robot swore like a longshoreman while going about its duties. This made me laugh super hard. (via @nickkokonas)

A brief history of swearing in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

Swearing in Hollywood movies was banned from the 1930s until 1968. And even then it took two more years for a movie (MASH) to use the word “fuck”. NSFW if you’ve got your fucking sound turned up.

A total clustercuss

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

I hadn’t realized there was so much cussing swearing in Wes Anderson’s movies. Here are some damn examples:

Just realized what the world is missing: the “fuck fuck fuck” scene from the first season of The Wire, but done in the style of (“cuss cuss mothercusser”) and with the characters from Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Every Samuel L. Jackson MF-bomb

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 01, 2014

Thesis: the quality of every movie starring Samuel L. Jackson varies directly with the number of times he says “motherfucker.” I feel like somebody at 538 should get on this.

Whenever I think about how Sam Jackson says “motherfucker,” I can’t get this Supremes song out of my head.

Whenever you’re near, I hear a symphony
Play sweet and tenderly
Every time your lips meet mine, now, baby, baby, baby
You bring much joy within
Don’t let this feeling end
Let it go on and on and on, now, baby, baby, baby
Those tears that fill my eyes
I cry not for myself
But for those who’ve never felt the joy we felt (baby)

(via @igorbobic by way of @daveweigel)

Update: In mid-2013, Filmdrunk calculated that since joining Twitter, Samuel L. Jackson has spelled “motherfucker” no fewer than 151 different ways.

Sam Jackson Motherfuckers

How Swearing Works

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 02, 2010

Everything you always wanted to know about swearing, but were too fucking afraid to ask. A nice companion to this.

(Via Holy Kaw)

Bad words in the dictionary

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2009

Over the centuries, vulgar words like fuck and cunt have been included dictionaries, then cast out, then in again, then out, in, out, and so on.

One major problem dictionary editors face in defining sexual terms is deciding how explicit to be. Defining coitus as “an act of sexual intercourse” but leaving sexual intercourse undefined, for example (on the grounds that a reader could figure it out from the definitions of sexual and intercourse), would be a problem, not only because it makes the reader do too much page-flipping but also because the definitions probably still won’t be sufficiently clear.

The rest of the article, by Jesse Sheidlower, the editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary, is deliciously vulgar and informative so be wary if you’re easily offended and don’t like information.

@#$%&?! = grawlix

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2008

That string of typographic symbols that substitute for swearing in cartoons? It’s called a grawlix.

The term is grawlix, and it looks to have been coined by Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker around 1964. Though it’s yet to gain admission to the Oxford English Dictionary, OED Editor-at-Large Jesse Sheidlower describes it as “undeniably useful, certainly a word, and one that I’d love to see used more.”

Well, @#$%&?!, that’s cool.

English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subjects, or

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2007

English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subjects, or the grammar of swearing. “Chomsky observes that the adverbial elements of (39)-(42) are outside of the verb phrase and that only elements within the verb phrase play a role in strict subcategorization of verbs. That principle would clearly be violated if fuck were a verb.”

How to swear in Latin. (via cyn-c)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2006

How to swear in Latin. (via cyn-c)

Sh*t yeah, the G** D***ed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2006

Sh*t yeah, the G** D***ed history of typographical bleeping, motherf***ers! The practice was widespread as early as the late 17th century.

The origins and common usage of British

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2005

The origins and common usage of British swear words. “Both Oxford and London boasted districts called ‘Gropecunte Lane’, in reference to the prostitutes that worked there. The Oxford lane was later renamed the slightly less-contentious Magpie Lane, while London’s version retained a sense of euphemism when it was changed to ‘Threadneedle Street’. Records do not show whether it was a decision of intentional irony that eventually placed the Bank of England there.”