Bad words (specifically "piss")

Paul Kusinitz kkmetron at COX.NET
Tue Jul 9 07:57:56 UTC 2002

Much obliged for shedding light on a passage from Finnegans Wake
(p. 397, lines 21-25):

...prompt Marcus Lyons [New Testament Mark the Lion] pass the teeth...
when it so happened they were all sycamore [sicker]...for all possabled....

The references are to "Lyons", "teeth", and (as Roland McHugh glosses
as "pissabed" in _Annotations to Finnegans Wake_) "possabled."

Paul K.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Laurence Horn 
  Sent: Monday, July 08, 2002 8:24 PM
  Subject: Re: Bad words (specifically "piss")

  At 10:37 PM -0400 7/8/02, Duane Campbell wrote:
  >On Mon, 8 Jul 2002 19:21:52 EDT "James A. Landau"
  >>   "Piss" is also from
  >>  French---compare the
  >  > name of the famous statue "Le Manequin-Pis".

  manikin-pis, in the heart of Brussels, so not technically French, but...

  Anyway, perhaps a clearer case is Fr. "pissenlit" for 'dandelion',
  literally piss-in-bed, from its presumed effect on the consumer.  We
  borrowed the 'lion's tooth' rather than the 'piss-in-bed' metaphor,
  given the choice.

  >Again, agreed. But "piss" is not really such a bad word. My
  >mother-in-law, a fine Methodist woman, may she rest in peace, who would
  >never allow a bad word or a bottle of alcohol in her house, felt no
  >inhibition in calling someone who gained her disfavor a "pisspot".  And
  >"pisshouse" was a common rural name for the outdoor convenience.
  I suspect there's a distinction between the literal, simple verb on
  the one hand and compound forms and/or those with metaphorical import
  on the other--not just "pisspot" and "pissenlit" but "piss off",
  "pissed" (meaning either 'drunk' in Britain or 'angry' in the U.S.,
  leading to some great misunderstandings, as it happens), "pissant",
  "piss-poor", and so on.  I can imagine all these being used, given
  the occasion, by a speaker who would nevertheless shy away from using
  "piss" tout court for the bodily function or fluid.  It's related, of
  course, to the story about the soldier on leave who locked up his
  fuckin rifle, said goodbye to his fuckin sergeant, left his fuckin
  barracks, took a fuckin bus into town, went into a fuckin bar, had a
  few fuckin drinks, picked up a fuckin girl, took her to a fuckin
  hotel, and had sexual intercourse with her.  (I'm sure others on the
  list could provide more eloquent tellings of the tale.)  The moral is
  that you can't really use metaphorical extensions or compounds to
  determine how "bad" (or powerful) a word is for a given speaker.


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