formal equivalents for bad words

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 8 17:35:29 UTC 2002

At 1:13 PM -0400 7/8/02, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>In a message dated 7/8/2002 12:56:17 PM, JMB at STRADLEY.COM writes:
><<         And the formal equivalent for the transitive verb "to fuck"?  The
>alleged formal equivalent is intransitive:  You can say that he is having
>sexual intercourse with her, but you cannot say that he is sexually
>intercoursing her.
>John Baker >>
>Formal and informal equivalents should not need to have exactly the same
>morphosyntactic possibilities.

It's more than a morphosyntactic distinction; there are correlated
semantic distinctions that even extend to "X made love with Y" vs. "X
made love to Y", the former a better (though not exact) match for "X
fucked Y".  This was all discussed in a classic late '60s paper by
the late Quang Phuc Dong, later reprinted in the 1973 festschrift for
McCawley, _Studies Out in Left Field_, and also in the paper "Pricks
and Chicks" by Robert Baker, presumably no relation to John, which
was reprinted in various anthologies on feminism and linguistics.
The basic idea, although the examples may need tweaking to cover
social and linguistic changes over the last three decades, is that
the transitive verbs and their asymmetric prepositional analogues (X
made love to Y), are interpreted with the subject as
penetrator/actor/initiator (Quang and Baker argued that X had to be
male, which is clearly wrong now and was probably wrong then) and the
object as penetratee/passive partner (depending on how THESE terms
are defined).  Still not quite right, but the defensible claim is
that the two terms in "X fucked/screwed Y" aren't taken to be
interchangeable, while those in e.g. "X and Y fucked/had sexual
intercourse" or "X made love with Y", "X had sexual intercourse with
Y", etc. are much more likely to be.  This is, Quang argued, why
"Fuck you", "Now I'm really fucked", "They screwed you this time",
and so on have the metaphorical extensions they do, while the
"symmetric" expressions never have such understandings involving
being mistreated, beaten, or taken advantage of.  All of which argues
that the distinction between "X fucked Y" and "X had sexual
intercourse with Y" are not semantically interchangeable.


More information about the Ads-l mailing list