Tag Archives: language

A Bloody Post.


I love swearing.

There. It’s out there.

In nearly every other way I am very professional librarian: I got the old business casual down to a science,  I do my work in an efficient and organized manner, I read Library Journal, American Libraries and Booklist. Clearly I am the picture of excitement.

Yet I have the mouth of a drunken sailor. There is something so very, very satisfying about a perfectly placed cuss word. I’m also all about putting two bad words together and creating a whole new, fabulous swear word (this happens a lot when I drive.) I tried to curb my cursing by putting a quarter in a cup every time I dropped an f-bomb. By the end of the day I had enough to go to Piper’s Pub for a nice lunch. I gave up, decided to embrace my foul mouth and hope I don’t swear too much around kids.

Imagine my joy when I discovered this article at Salon.com. How, with my great love of profanity, have I never read about the history of bad language? I immediately ordered Melissa Mohr’s new book, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, and I was on my way!

As every reader knows, that led down a rabbit hole of information and before you knew it, this happened:


Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, Geoffrey Hughes

Chosen as a Book of the Year by The Observer, reviewer Valentine Cunningham called Swearing a “deliciously filthy trawl among taboo words across the ages and the globe.” Interesting fact: The definition of efflorescence. (This book is a bit, uh, dry.)

The Anatomy of Swearing, Ashley Montagu

Written by a social biologist, The Anatomy of Swearing was written in 1967 so it’s a bit dated. I suspect Ashley Montagu never would have imagined her local librarian freely yelling the f-word in traffic. Interesting fact: People swear more when they are relaxed and happy.

The F-Word, edited by Jesse Sheidlower (former editor of the OED, so you know he’s good.)

This book speaks to me on so many levels! It’s an encyclopedia of various forms of the f-word. Alas, I am sad to report that several words I thought I made up have been in use for hundreds of years. Interesting fact: The earliest known publication of the f-word in the United States was actually in a legal case involving slander and a horse. My mother reads this blog, so you’ll have to look it up yourself.

Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language, Ruth Wajnryb

Expletive Deleted is an idiosyncratic romp through swearing history. Wajnryb obviously loves language(s) and studies not only English cursing, but goes global! She also makes a decent argument that we swear because we can’t just slug people. Interesting fact: I am dysphemistic, in that I deliberately use an offensive word in place of a more neutral one.

For fun: Shakespearean cussing!

suzy, who is proud of herself for not swearing once in this whole post!


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Lost in Translation

The English language has some amazing words and expressions, but sometimes there just isn’t a word to describe the way you’re feeling.  The German word schadenfreude comes to mind: the joy one feels as the result of someone else’s misfortune.  Once in a while I try to describe something,  find myself flailing in English, and think that there must be a better word to describe what I mean!  I recently did some searching in our collection to see what words other languages use that don’t have equivalents in English. I came across some good ones.  Here are a few of my favorites.

From They Have a Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words & Phrases:

Feierabend (German): Festive frame of mind at the end of the working day.

mbuki-mvuki (Bantu): To shuck off one’s clothes in order to dance.

razbliuto (Russian): The feeling a person has for someone he or she once loved but now does not.

From The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words From Around the World:

Backpfeifengesicht (German): a face that cries out for a fist in it. (The German language is so descriptive!)

pu’ukaula (Hawaiian): to set up one’s wife as a stake in gambling

From In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World:

hankikanto (Finnish): a frozen crust on the surface of snow that is strong enough to walk on.

wabi-sabi (Japanese): the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, modest, and humble.

uitwaaien (Danish): to walk in the wind for fun.

As I was looking for more untranslatable words, I also came across some interesting websites. This one features an infographic mapping English words for emotions and 25 words to describe specific emotions that have no English word equivalent. And this one, which led me to a few more words I love: pena ajena (Mexican Spanish– the embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation) and gigil (Tagalog– the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute). Comment below if you know of any amazing words that don’t have an English equivalent!



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Mighty Like A Virus

I hardly ever get sick, which means that on the rare occasions I am sidelined by a random plague, I’m convinced I’m at death’s door.

You can laugh if you like but, I have a healthy fear and respect for that tiny, mighty lifeform known as the virus. It doesn’t care what your plans are or how many items you have on your to-do list.  It just moves in, sets up housekeeping in your bloodstream, turns on some music and does the cha-cha all over your poor, feverish body.  If you’re unlucky, it will invite its friends to the party. And, frequently, there’s not much you can do about it until it gets bored and saunters off to find a new victim.


On the bright side, once you get your appetite back and can actually sit upright without feeling dizzy, you can indulge yourself in a good book without feeling too guilty about not being at your post. I’m spending my convalescence with Zoli, a historical novel about a Romani woman who is expelled from her family for revealing too much of their history and culture, though poetry and song, to the gadje (non-Romani). The narrative winds back and forth through time and place, beginning in Slovakia circa 2003, where a newspaper reporter searches the Roma camps for news of the mysterious Zoli, a legend in literary circles.  Loosely based on the life of the  poet Papusza, Zoli is equal parts beauty and heartbreak, and has definitely made me want to read more about Romani history and culture.

I do wish authors would stop using the word “gypsy,” though, in their book titles and descriptions.  From what my research tells me, many Roma people find it offensive, and yet its use persists.  Perhaps language, too, is like a virus that cannot be actively defeated, but only stubbornly waited out?

Leigh Anne


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Ever wonder how some of the more colorful words and phrases in the English language made their way into our lexicon? In yet one more proof that libraries contain credible information on everything, here’s a short list of good books about bad language:

Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, Geoffrey Hughes.

The Anatomy of Swearing, Ashley Montagu

Blue Streak, Richard Dooling.

Expletive Deleted, Ruth Wajnyrb.

There are also a number of books and materials specifically dedicated to what Ralphie, the plucky hero of A Christmas Story, calls “the queen mother of dirty words”:

Christopher Fairman’s book examines cursing in light of the First Amendment…

…while Jessie Sheidlower’s collection, The F-Word, takes the history/etymology route, in copious detail.

Those of you who prefer film will find the same topic treated documentary-style in F**k, which includes commentary from Steven Bochco, Pat Boone, and Hunter S. Thompson.

Gee whiz!

Learning about the roots of naughty words might not be everybody’s cup of tea, so if none of the items in today’s blog post appealed to you, there will be a whole fresh crop of books and things to consider Monday.  If, however, you are besotted with words and languages, I swear — er, promise — you’ll always be able to indulge your curiosity at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

–Leigh Anne

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