A Few Words On Four Letter Words
Caution: The Following Article Contains Words That Some May Find Offensive .
I received a couple of emails recently berating me for using ‘dirty’ words on my blog. I’ve even been told that using ‘bad’ words indicates that I must have a poor command of the language, that my vocabulary is lax. To those charges I must respond:
What a load of shit. First, there are no ‘dirty’ or ‘bad’ words. There are simply words. Let’s take a look at a few four letter words.
Damn – Currently this is one of the least offensive of the four letter words. If you follow its origins all the way back to the Latin you’ll find it is related to damnum, which means damage, loss or hurt, and that it is related to daps, a sacrificial meal, which is most likely related to an ancient religious term.
Not very powerful if you use it while doing the pee pee dance after you stub your toe, as in “damn, damn damn, I think it’s broken”. But try it as a curse. “Damn you and your foul progeny”! Etymology from Barnhart’s Concise Dictionary of Etymology .
Shit – Perhaps seen as a little more offensive than damn but there’s no off-color words in its pedigree. Shit:-ORIGIN Old English scitte ‘diarrhoea’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schijten, German scheissen (verb) From the OED. Forget that Ship High In Transit acronym origin, that’s just another form of shit, we call it bullshit .
Hell – Another mild word that’s only insulting to those that you tell to go there. Often used to indicate exasperation. As in ‘Ah hell, the Cubs lost again’.
Bitch – (yeah, yeah, there’s five letters, Stuart was already bitching about that ;)) From the Old English, cognate with and perhaps borrowed from, A Scandinavian word such as Old Icelandic bikkja, female dog, or Old Danish bikke. No one blinks if you use it to mean ‘complain’. Call a woman a bitch and all hell breaks loose. Must be the link to female dog eh? Vixen oddly enough, is often seen as mildly flattering. Etymology from Barnhart’s Concise Dictionary of Etymology
Fuck – Sorry, I can’t find a consensus on the etymology of the word ‘fuck’. The best I can do is mention that the Middle English fucken means ‘to strike’. It does not come from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Sorry folks, but acronyms just weren’t used much back when the word was first being used.
This word is often seen as offensive, especially in the U.S. Might be that Puritan background eh? As far as words go, fuck is a workhouse, as evidenced by the following piece by someone well versed in the versatility of the word;
* Noun: I don’t give a fuck.
* Adjective: Jennifer is organizing the fucking event.
* Verb: Don’t fuck it up.
* Transitive verb: Paul fucked Jennifer.
* Intransitive verb: Jennifer fucks.
* Part of an adverb: Jennifer organizes too fucking much.
* Adverb enhancing an adjective: Jennifer is fucking amazing.
* Part of a word: Fanfuckingtastic! Absofuckinglutely infuckingcredible!
Here are some examples of how the word fuck can be used.
* Aggression: Don’t fuck with me.
* Amazement: Infuckingcredible!
* Assurance: Absofuckinglutely.
* Difficulty: I’m having a fuck of a time with this.
* Disagreement: Fuck you!
* Dismay: Fuck it.
* Dismissal: Fuck off.
* Fraud: I got fucked on that deal.
* Incompetence: What a fuckup.
* Inquiry: What the fuck?
* Pleasure: Fanfuckingtastic!
* Satisfaction: Fucking “A” man!
* Trouble: Now I’m fucked.
To those that say use of four letter words is proof of poor command of the language, I must again say, bullshit. Ever heard a non-native speaker curse incorrectly? Or a young child that’s just learning how to swear? The misuse is often amusing. ‘Go to bitchy hell’. The BBC’s examination of offensive words was interesting as well;
David Crystal says that no two taboo words are used in exactly the same the way grammatically:
“Damn, for example, cannot be used with a preceding personal pronoun (*You damn!) and arse cannot be followed by one (*Arse you!); fart cannot be followed by off or it; bugger, however, can be used in all four of these contexts.”
It’s also interesting to note that there’s one rule of grammar only used with swear words (or their euphemisms). There’s a knack to inserting a swear word into a word or phrase – and it’s something you don’t do with other words. Consider:
Abso-bloody-lutely! vs Ab-bloody-solutely!
What the frig are you doing here? vs What are you doing the frig here?
Where’s my sodding car? vs Where’s sodding my car?
Can four letter words be overused? Of course, and when they are, they lose their effectiveness. Sometimes though, there’s no substitute for them. Bang your thumb with a hammer? Does screaming ‘french fries’ have the same impact? Swear words are a useful part of the language. They exist in every language and the good ones have staying power. They also save time.
When your buddy laments that he ‘forgot to pay his taxes for the last three years’ you can properly inform him of his duty as a citizen and you can remind him of the severe legal penalties that exist for not giving the IRS their due, or you can just say, ‘Dude, you’re fucked’.