Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why 'Holy shit!' sounds just right

“As secularization has rendered religious swear words less powerful, creative speakers have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics. To take just one example, why do people use the ungrammatical 'Fuck you?' And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly, 'Fuck you' means? (Some people guess 'fuck yourself,' others 'get fucked,' and still others 'I will fuck you,' but none of these hunches is compelling.) The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries:

Who (in) the hell are you? >> Who the fuck are you?
I don't give a damn >> I don't give a fuck; I don't give a shit.
Holy Mary! >> Holy shit! Holy fuck!
For God's sake >> For fuck's sake; For shit's sake.
Damn you! >> Fuck you!”

More of Steven Pinker's fascinating foray into impious language here.


Annamanila said...

Have you read For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernie H? It has an interesting running commentary on cusswords in Spanish and alluded to a mother of all cuss words.

pat said...

he who invented cuss words and phrases ought to be thanked.

gibbs cadiz said...

ANNA, haven't read it. but only for what you've just described, sige, hahanapin ko siya. :)

PAT, ah-men! :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Search this blog or the Web