Posted by & filed under Podcast.

Alternate Titles: AND … tits, Bugger is for Sodomy, Dog Japan’d, When “Damn it” Just Won’t Cut it, What Did My 16th Great-Grandfather Do to You?
Today we talk all about taboo words.  Make sure you have your headphones in or are by yourself when you listen, because we are going through the gamut of profane and vile words in various languages for ideas, and we simply can’t dance around the nasty ones.  Also, we review Lé by Mark Rosenfelder.  Plus, stick around after the end music for a hilariously NSFW mashup.
Links and Resources:
  • Steven Pinker on Profanity 1 2
Featured Conlang:
Feedback
Kenneth Nyman (Comment on #09)

The changing use of “du” and “ni” in 20th century Swedish may be an interesting example of how rules of courtesy and formality may change.

(1) In earlier Swedish, one should use a title when addressing someone of higher social rank than oneself. Intimates could address each other with “du” (the regular 2nd person singular pronoun). A person of higher social rank could address someone of lower rank (for example, an employer talking to an employee) using “ni” (the 2nd person plural pronoun)

(2) In the early 20th century, there was attempts to change the formality system into French/German-style T/V-distinction, using “ni” as an all-purpose formal pronoun, while “du” would continue being the familiar pronoun. The attempts were only partly successful; many people (especially in more conservative small towns or rural areas) still considered “ni” as quite unfriendly, mainly used when addressing someone of a lower rank.

(3) In the latter half of the 20th century, in accordance with general social changes in a more egalitarian and familiar direction, “du” became a generally used pronoun, used on most social context (“du-reformen”, “the du-reform”).

(4) At the dusk of the 20th century, it became increasingly common for young people in various service occupations to address customers with “ni”, probably under influence from the French/German T/V-distinction. While it was done as an act of courtesy, the ironic result could be that old people, who had grown up with the earlier system, perceived it as rude and felt insulted.

14 Responses to “Conlangery #13: Profanity, Insults, and Taboo Words (NSFW)”

  1. Ian

    Well you asked for feedback and if you’ve affected any change, so I’d just like to say that I enjoyed this episode as much as the others. Lé is an interesting language, as well.

    Also, I was working on my own conlang while listening, however I didn’t add any profane words. Although, it does have a two-tone system. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Roman Rausch

    Russian has retained both Indo-European roots for ‘fart’: bzdet’ < *pezd- (silently), perdet' < *perd- (loudly), and the former is often used in the sense 'to be scared'.

    Reply
  3. Bryan

    I wonder if, now Bianca is in England, she has a new appreciation for British swearwords. Trust me; come to any rough area of London, and you are gonna hear some swearology that’ll shock your American mind up. I personally find American swearing to be generally weak. but that’s my own personal taste.

    Reply
    • Ossicone

      Nope. 😛
      I was in London for 6 months before now.

      There is very little that would shock me anymore. Least of all being mere words in any language.

      Reply
      • Bryan

        To be honest, you do seem to have a pretty acidic tongue! 😛

        Did you spend much time on the mean streets of Brixton or, say, Forest Gate? 😉

        I spend quite a bit of time thinking up swearwords for my languages… perhaps a bit too much time… ahem…

        Reply
          • Bryan

            Cheers, mate. Historical linguistics is an area I’m interested in. 🙂 You’ve got my email addy… I guess… 😛

        • Ossicone

          Haha. Nope. I was kept busy touring train stations and churches. Although I did make my way down to Brixton a couple of times.
          I did live in NYC for 3 years though and it’s bad sides are much uglier.

          Reply
          • Bryan

            Okay, you win! I think NY’s possibly worse than London. Altho we do seem to have a higher murder rate now than NY: w00t! erm… (‘MY city’s scumier than yours!’ ‘Nuhuh!’ /)

  4. Daeiribu

    Hey everyone! I’m just now starting to listen through your podcasts, so it’s going to be quite a lot of time before I catch up…

    Anyway, William mentioned the two PIE words for “to fart” – *perdo and *pezdo (I’m no PIE expert so the ortography is most certainly wrong) – and expressed his opinion that no modern language has retained both. In fact, in Latvian there is the word “pirst” < *perd-; but there is also the much more vulgar "bezdēt", which describes loud, continuous, almost violent farting I would say. And it might as well descend from *pezd in some way. Or it might just be a coincidence (As I said, I'm no expert on PIE).

    Reply
  5. Rhamos Vhailejh

    At around 34 minutes, you guys are talking about how the impact and meaning of curse words become lost over time from over-use. Like the word sucker not being as impactful anymore as it once was, and how even the stronger ones like fuck or shit are losing their impact as well for the same reason. I’d like to point out an observation I’ve made over the years on that note. I’ve noticed that often times, some of these swear words which have completely lost their impact end up unexpectedly regaining their impact when they haven’t been used in a long time. For example, in today’s world of douchebags, assholes, fuckfaces, and cock knuckles, I’ve found that, when used properly, a now seemingly archaic word like “jerk” can actually have a great deal of unexpected impact. Imagine if someone said to you, with all seriousness, sternness, and real intent, “you know what? You’re a fuckin’ JERK!” Would you have to kind of take a double take on that? Possibly. I actually recently got very upset at being called “dumb”, which obviously feels like one of those “kiddie curses” as Bianca put it (now so because of the aforementioned overuse over a long period of time, desensitizing English speakers from it), but because that particular insult has been “off the map” (so to speak) for such a long time, I found that it had a powerful affect when used with intent.
    Also, this episode has definitely helped me to find inspiration for swear words in my conlang, which have been dreadfully lacking until now. That bit about “table” being used as a curse word was inspirational gold. I was already thinking about incorporating insults based around detracting from a person’s intelligence, and I think I’m still going to do that. But now I’m also going to make it so that insults in my conlang are created by detracting from a person’s animacy. Especially when the inferred inanimacy is representative of a function-serving object like a table (which serves the function of holding things up off the ground with its legs), further insulting their independence, free will, motivational drive, and potentially implying a lack of right to one’s destiny (as a table doesn’t get to choose what happens to it, it merely serves its function). In short: objectification. I think that this makes perfect sense for my conlang, as even from day one, I’ve tried to incorporate a sense of inherent equality and right to choice into the language. So it would make sense that an attack on these concepts would be considered rude or taboo.
    And that bit at the end with the curse-fest outro was hysterical. Loved that.

    Reply
  6. Mo

    How much I should, or shouldn’t, translate swearing is very messy. It really depends on people’s personal tastes.

    In my conlang, they have a word very close to the English word “shit”… although “fart” is also a word, which is very akin to “shit”. “Horse” is a lot like English “bitch” or Korean “dog”. “Incester” is a very common, strong, and multipurpose swear. These would just kinda sound weird in English.

    And then you’ve got phrases that aren’t exactly profanity (well, some have got “fuck” in them, but the offence in this doesn’t lie in their inherent words, but in their actual meaning are phases). Stuff like, “Fuck your mother!”, “Fuck your brother!” (there’s cultural stuff there), “The evil eye on you!”, and “A plague on your clan!”

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *