The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘swearing’

Strife in the Fast Lane

March 24, 2015 | by


Photo: Daniel Ramirez

The other day, I was riding down a Tucson highway with my mother. We had been to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and now it was rush hour. Suddenly, a man in a white pickup accelerated, passed us on the right, and screamed, “GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE, DUMBASS!”

After a moment of stunned silence, we both started to snicker. Read More »

I Swear

January 30, 2015 | by

In 1904, Roland D. Sawyer launched a crusade against obscenity.

In 1904, Roland D. Sawyer launched a crusade against obscenity.

No one ever heard my grandmother, in all her eighty-three years, utter a bad word. I can only once remember her even raising her voice. “It’s all fouled up!” she cried then, shaking a broken TV set. She said it with such frustration and despair that it expressed at least as much as any curse word might have. In fact, besides the time I heard a four-year-old in my brother’s playgroup call his sister Mary-Ellen a “fuckindamnshit,” it was the most shocking thing I’d ever heard.

Her husband, my grandfather, was considered foul-mouthed in the family; his language was a constant cause of distress to her. But in fact, he didn’t use real swear words either—certainly not compared to that little boy. It was usually a savage Goddammit! Or Hell’s Bell’s! His worst outbursts were reserved for his weekly gin game. It was then that he’d reach for the worst epithet of all: “I’ll be dipped.” Read More »

Still in the Grip of Kitsch, and Other News

December 17, 2014 | by


Photo: Jean-Noël Lafargue

  • The origins of Times New Roman, the trustiest typeface of the PC era: “Times New Roman began as a challenge, when esteemed type designer Stanley Morison criticized London’s newspaper The Times for being out-of-touch with modern typographical trends. So The Times asked him to create something better. Morison enlisted the help of draftsman Victor Lardent and began conceptualizing a new typeface with two goals in mind: efficiency—maximizing the amount of type that would fit on a line and thus on a page—and readability.”
  • A history of kitsch and its enduring power: “Kitsch is not about the thing observed but about the observer. It does not invite you to feel moved by the doll you are dressing so tenderly, but by yourself dressing the doll. All sentimentality is like this—it redirects emotion from the object to the subject, so as to create a fantasy of emotion without the real cost of feeling it. The kitsch object encourages you to think, ‘Look at me feeling this—how nice I am and how lovable.’ ”
  • Great moments in swearing: an utterance in John Carpenter’s The Thing helped define our sense of a treasured obscenity. “The fuckin’ in ‘You gotta be fuckin’ kidding’ is surplus to compositional meaning but crucial to the moment and the encounter. Its trochee supplies essential force to the line’s measured disbelief, extending Palmer’s (and by extension the group’s) appalled bewilderment at the boggling form of their alien enemy.”
  • A new book purports to bust the stereotypes behind archaeology: “the work is often poorly paid, physically demanding, and prone to controversy … the unemployment rate in the field [is] at about fifty per cent.” (This piece, to its great credit, mentions Indiana Jones zero times.)
  • The best defense for research: “It’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.”


Profanity-Laced Tirade

October 10, 2014 | by


No cussing! A postcard ca. 1909.

The following human-interest story ran recently on Metro UK:

A grandmother who once hated the idea of swearing now turns the air blue after a stroke left her unable to control her potty mouth ...

‘Before I had a stroke I would still get annoyed at things but I could control my upset, however now I just can’t help it,’ she said.

The retired bank worker says her swearing particularly irks her husband, as he used to be a head teacher and therefore has an obvious aversion to swearing.

She has introduced a swear box since her stroke last January in an attempt to train her brain, and is also receiving help from psychologists.

Of course, nowadays, not cursing is more noteworthy than swearing like a sailor. I’ve never been very good at cursing, personally. There was a very brief vogue in my middle-school homeroom for trying to get me to curse; it corresponded with general mockery of my uptightness. But I stand by that; I think I understood that however ludicrous a tiny, flannel-clad nerd trying to be dignified might have been, the same tiny, flannel-clad nerd peppering her speech with profanity would have been more ludicrous still. The problem is that I never learned to do it, and to this day in moments of extremis will give voice to ejaculations like, Oh, gosh! Gee whiz! Drat! And, when things get really bad, Darn it!

But then, I don’t come from much of a swearing family. Even the grown-ups didn’t go in for what my mother calls “coarse language,” and we kids wouldn’t have dared. (As with many normal things, however, my brother seems to have taken to it much more easily than I.) With the exception of the famous occasion on which she listed cunt on her Boggle scorecard—“isn’t this a word?”—my grandmother never used words stronger than fouled up. As for my grandfather, he managed to invest his gin-playing epithets—“DAMMIT!” “I’LL BE DIPPED!”—with such rage and menace that the words themselves were almost immaterial.

Cursing may coarsen the culture and display a lack of verbal imagination, but it is a useful skill to have. Back when those kids used to tease me, I remember replying with dignity that I like to be able to use the same language with my grandmother that I do the rest of the time, and thinking that this was a really good answer. But then, there are grandmothers and grandmothers. As the article tells us, Preston “has even called her grandchildren ‘little b******s’ when they were playing up.”

Don’t Get Hot

September 23, 2014 | by


Illustration: Tomia

An anecdote about censorship, since it’s Banned Books Week. Readers of today’s TPR know that our writers cuss with all the relish of a splenetic sailor who’s just stubbed his toe on shore leave. But such was not always the case. The magazine’s earliest editors were leery of salty language, and Terry Southern never forgot it.

Our latest issue features an editorial exchange between Southern and George Plimpton from 1958, when they were preparing Southern’s interview with Henry Green for publication. That interview features a now-classic aperçu from Green about the origin of his novel Loving:

I got the idea of Loving from a manservant in the Fire Service during the war. He was serving with me in the ranks, and he told me he had once asked the elderly butler who was over him what the old boy most liked in the world. The reply was: “Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast with cunty fingers.” I saw the book in a flash.

As Southern wrote to Plimpton, “Hot stuff, eh George? Well now you realize of course that the word ‘cunty’ makes the reply, gives it bite, insight, etc. I mean to say it simply would not do to rephrase it, ‘Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, eating toast with fingers,’ would it?” Read More »


These Big Eyes Are Lies, and Other News

May 8, 2014 | by

keane eyes

Margaret Keane, Big Eyes

  • Putin has signed a law banning foul language in plays and movies; any books with cuss words will come in sealed packages, with warnings. Which words qualify as uncouth? A panel of “independent experts” is soon to convene in pursuit of that very fucking question.
  • Meanwhile, in America and the UK, an unexpurgated edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Taps at Reveille—its expletives intact; its sex, drugs, and anti-Semitic slurs restored—will arrive next month.
  • Long before the heyday of Lisa Frank, there was the pop artist Walter Keane, who became something of a household name in the sixties: his work depicted sad children with enormous, farcically melancholy eyes. But his wife Margaret deserved all the credit: “The man wasn’t a painter at all. Margaret was the creator of all the Big Eye art. Walter basked in the glory, partied with the celebrities, and reaped the rewards. As she would later relate, the tearful, doe-eyed children she painted had nothing to do with Walter’s supposed belief in children redeeming the world. The weeping waifs reflected her own sorrow.”
  • Revising the myth of Phineas Gage, who survived, in the late nineteenth century, an accident in which an iron rod went straight through his head, and who has been fodder for Psych 101 students ever since. “Recent historical work, however, suggests that much of the canonical Gage story is hogwash, a mélange of scientific prejudice, artistic license, and outright fabrication. In truth each generation seems to remake Gage in its own image, and we know very few hard facts about his post-accident life and behavior.”
  • “How do you design cities and civic spaces in ways that account for people’s varied reactions to sound itself? Where does ‘sound’ end, and ‘noise’ begin?”