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The Function Of Profanity In Modern English

4019 words - 17 pages

Table Of Contents .Chapter 1- Introduction and ClarificationChapter 2- Everyday Usage of ProfanityChapter 3- How Profanity OffendsChapter 4- A Look at the Literal Meanings and TabooChapter 5- Phatic and Emotive LanguageChapter 6- The Employment of SubstitutesChapter 7- A Brief Historical PerspectiveChapter 8- The Use of Profanity in the MediaChapter 9- ConclusionsBibliographyThe Function of Profanity in Modern EnglishChapter 1- Introduction and ClarificationSince the beginning of the English language, there have existed certain words that were considered by the majority to be taboo, or not to be spoken in polite discourse. Over the centuries, these words have changed, some disappearing from ...view middle of the document...

The 'lower' physical faculties of copulation, defecation and urination have come very much to the fore as referents in swearing.Therefore it seems appropriate to choose a set of 'four-letter words' in American English, known by american linguists as the 'Big Six,' which range from mildly to extremely taboo and also cover these 'contemporary' topics in swearing. They are: fart, piss, shit, fuck, cock and cunt. The first two are of Anglo- Saxon origin and date from c.1000 and c.1250, respectively. Piss, however, is of Norman French origin and dates from c.1290. Fuck is a well-known word for sexual intercourse, and cock and cunt are slang, if not profane, terms for the male and female organs involved in this activity. All three are of unknown origin, and date from c.1500 for fuck and c.1400 for cock and cunt.Unfortunately, we must also make an attempt at defining 'useful purpose,' even if it is impossible to come to a conclusion that will please everyone. A good question to ask here is: 'What properties does a word with purpose have?' Most linguists would likely respond that a word does not have a purpose unless it has both a meaning and a grammatical place in a sentence, and some would probably want to include the use of the words as phatic and emotive expressions. How, though, do you ascertain when this purpose becomes a 'useful purpose'? Can it be deemed useful merely by having a purpose at all? That question, fundamentally, presents the answer. One must consider the original purpose of language: to aid in transferring knowledge or ideas or even emotions from one person to another. Therefore, any word that assists in this transfer can be considered both useful and purposeful. It should be noted, however, that there are different degrees of usefulness. Our choice of words in communication indicates our preference of one word over another, revealing our belief that a certain word is more useful for communicating a certain idea than any other in our active vocabulary.With these terms defined, it is now possible to rephrase a question in a way that facilitates a clear and equally defined response. The new question would look something like: Do the words fart, piss, shit, fuck, cock and cunt serve to aid in the transfer of ideas or information between people speaking the English language?Chapter 2- Everyday Usage of ProfanityProbably the best place to start any study of profane language is where it is spoken. Try this quiz from the sidewalks of New York:1) A young man was a step too slow racing for the Second Avenue bus. As it pulled away, he angrily shouted one word for everyone nearby to hear. It was: (a) Gadzooks; (b) Doggone; (c) Phooey; (d) Fuck.2) A fast-moving bicyclist screamed at a middle-aged man trying to cross Broadway. 'Watch where you're going, you ...' His next two words were: (a) Errant knave; (b) Brainless dolt; (c) Pedestrian poltroon; (d) Dumb Shit.It should be obvious that the correct answer, both times, is (d). These are but two...

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