A primer on swearing

A primer on swearing
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Nobody gives a sh*t about “f*ck” any more, but the taboos against epithets directed at certain protected groups grow stronger by the minute.

In In Praise of Profanity, Michael Adams argues plausibly that the threshold for what counts as profane (or obscene, or vulgar, all related but not synonymous concepts) is vague and radically context-dependent. I can write “douche bag” out, for instance, and the editors of National Review can’t do anything about it. The fact that this is a book review about dirty words provides plenty of evidence that I mean “douche bag” in the indecent sense, to be sure — but that evidence is circumstantial. And, besides, I took out a little extra insurance by using a space between “douche” and “bag.”…

Homography is one way to slip cusswords into polite political periodicals. Euphemism is another. But whether we make “Jesus Christ” into “Cheese and Rice,” or obscure the odd vowel in “f*ck” or “sh*t,” there’s something a little silly going on. Nobody’s thrown off the scent by these little acts of censorship, just as nobody was fooled by my “douche” move above. Euphemisms are, in Adams’s words, like a “see-through fig leaf.”

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