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December 05, 2007


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saul levmore

The document itself is a fake of sorts or a spoof (note that it refers to words not fit to print after printing them), but it is still a fun topic. As a matter of language, anthropology, and innovation, it is interesting that there appears to be much more innovation in ethnic and racial slurs than there is in general purpose words of insult. If the FCC or any other authority tries to specify a ban or code, it would surely list the familiar words, known to baseball players, but then also list many words used about racial and religious and national groups. These have a remarkable ability to change every few years, and so the innovation comment is interesting.
It must be hard to be a censor. A great majority of citiznes finds some words offensive, but then it is easy for the comic or social critic to show context in which nearly every word is meaningful rather than obscene. Even such (presently) innocent words as damn and lousy and god and bitch have gone through periods (some continue) when they could go either way. If context is nearly everything, the rule is hard to specify in advance, and then that gives free speech advocates, or perhaps a different majority of citizens, pause.
Somehow, in every day conversation most of us learn to avoid the offensive and yet to express ourselves. Perhaps we can tolerate a few outliers.

Randy Picker

Interesting; you think it is a fake? Did you look at this: http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/blog/?p=41 ?

The overall site seems to specialize in baseball auctions: http://s210975194.onlinehome.us/index.html

Joe S.

I think that the deficit in dirty words is confined to the English language. Only modern Hebrew--an invention of proper Victorian scholars--is more bereft.

The original post made two points: English has a small vocabulary of this sort; and English is not very innovative. I don't know if other languages with richer vocabularies are also more inventive.

Todd Henderson

After reading Randy's post, I was reminded of seeing something about the history of dirty words, and remembering that what we commonly think of today as commonplace--like "Gee" and "Jeepers"--were once considered improper words for polite company. In other words, in the 19th Century, one could drop the J-Bomb. A quick Google search refreshes my recollection about where I saw this:


Contrary to the claim of this post, the history here seems to reveal quite a bit of innovation in dirty words. One wonders if the F-Bomb will be as accepted in the 22nd Century as "jeepers" is today.

Randy Picker


I think that that is wrong. That suggests that we used to have a larger class of words that counted as swear words and that we have lost swear words over time, but not added them. That is change, but I guess I was looking for new words, innovation through additions.

The natural question, though one that I avoided in the body of the post given the comments that it might attract, is what do we think is the last great innovation in general swear words? What is that new word and when did it come to have general currency?


Todd, in the comments here, says, "Contrary to the claim of this post, the history here seems to reveal quite a bit of innovation in dirty words. One wonders if the F-Bomb will be as accepted in the 22nd Century as "jeepers" is today."


1L on a study break

I don't have the time, but someone could make a case for 'originalism' here.

You could also say that it takes a generation or two for once 'unmentionable' words/phrases to make the colloquial jump to the ears of the bourgeoisie, regardless of their eventual acceptance like 'jeepers' as Henderson alluded.

Look out for 'skeet'.

No offense intended.

Mark B.

Interesting that nobody has noted the word in all caps at the bottom:


What was the state of the law on sending obscenity through the U.S. mails in 1898?

If as Dean Levmore says this is a fake or a spoof, someone was pretty clever to add this.

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