Friday, November 6, 2009

Swear Words

My colleague Chuck found this while flipping through Understanding Grammar (1954), by Paul Roberts:

As they are most frequently used, swear words fit the definition of the interjection. Many swear words are verbs which have lost their verbal meaning—thus damn, which in common use has lost the meaning "consign to perdition" and is used merely as an expression of anger, pain, disapproval, or whatever. Names of the deity are often used interjectionally as swear words, sometimes in euphemistic disguise: gosh, golly, gee, gee whiz, etc.

In Vulgate there is a strong tendency for certain swear words to lose all power of expressing meaning or emotion either, as a result of overuse. In Army speech, for example, two or three forms recur constantly, sometimes in every sentence through a long discourse. Such words lose even the color of indecency and become mere fillers, a linguistic sawdust.


Anonymous said...

"Linguistic sawdust" : I love it! I'm gonna trot that one out the next time Eleanor declares, "Hey, Mama, I just said 'damnit'!" --Laura B.

Anonymous said...

Currently writing an essay about the use of the term 'gay' in the classroom. Very interesting, and fantastic quote to include when discussing Wittgenstein's "Meaning is use"