the historical ''base''

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Mon Apr 25 13:54:50 UTC 2005

There seems to be little question that true euphemisms (e.g., GEE WHIZ, GOSH 
DARN) were historically preceded by taboo words (JESUS, GOD DAMN). I'm sure 
that there has been a historical disconnect for some people, who learn the 
euphemism without learning it connection to its antecedent (though how long they 
could remain in such ignorance would depend on their cultural surroundings).

But I can't see how this could be the case with GO FLY A KITE, GO KEEP A COW, 
etc. and GO FUCK YOURSELF; any connection seems much more tenuous. I doubt 
seriously that GO FUCK YOURSELF is the historical "base" form for GO FLY A KITE, 
GO KEEP A COW, etc. (or that it is the psychological "base" form for them, 
either). When Jim says that GO FLY A KITE, GO KEEP A COW, etc. "cease to be 
euphemisms" and "take on a life of their own," it seems clear that he is 
presenting a historical hypothesis--which is what I am disputing. And if he is not 
putting forth a historical or psychological sense of "base," just what IS he 
saying? Maybe "base" means 'taboo'? 

I suggest that the "vague familiarity" that Jim speaks of needs no special 
analysis. People are "vaguely familiar" with terms that they think they might 
have heard someone say, but they aren't sure; they doubt that they use the terms 
themselves. I guess people who are familliar with GO SCREW YOURSELF might 
have their memory colored by that familiarity and thus be more likely to find GO 
KEEP A COW "vaguely familiar," but I don't see why, in this sense of "base," 
GO FUCK YOUSELF would be any more the "base" form than GO SCREW YOURSELF, GO 
BACK OFF IN YOUR OWN JACK YARD, or--more likely, GO FLY A KITE, which is 
certainly familiar to most Americans, and linguistically and in terms of register 
more like GO KEEP A COW than are the forms that make use of taboo words and 

In a message dated 4/24/05 10:17:30 PM, stalker at MSU.EDU writes:

> The terminology, base, underlying, precursor, whatever, is not the point.
> The point I was trying to make is that these seem to be euphemisms, like gee
> whiz, golly gee, cheese and crackers, gosh darn, etc.  Whether the
> non-euphemistic form was present in the speakers mind is immaterial.  Some
> speakers could have known that they were uttering a eupemism, others not.
> At some point, I would guess, such phrases have a life of their own; they
> cease to be euphemisms, at least for most speakers.  I was merely trying to
> address the "vague familiarity" that some posters expressed.
> Jim
> RonButters at AOL.COM writes:
> > In a message dated 4/23/05 8:17:13 PM, stalker at MSU.EDU writes:
> >
> >
> >> Further thought. Perhaps the base form is "go fuck yourself." By
> >> extension, "go fuck a cow," which I'm sure your dad would never have said 
> or
> >> even have thought of, so the "go + (do) + absurd action" is a euphemistic
> >> substitute. Opens up lots of creative options. Maybe?
> >>
> >> Jim
> >>
> >
> > What does "base form" mean in this context? If "dad" never would have said
> > it, does that mean that he would have thought it? Or is there a historical
> > premise here--that people would have first said, "go fuck yourself" and 
> > thought of things like "Go fly a kite?" Or both?
> >
> > Neither hypothesis seems plausible to me. In whichb case the notion "base
> > form" seems vacuous, having no psychological, social, or historical 
> reality.
> >
> > In a message dated 4/23/05 8:12:08 PM, stalker at MSU.EDU writes:
> >
> >
> >> Like Ron, the "go keep a cow" sounded vaguely familiar. "Go chase
> >> yourself"
> >> sounded as if I had really heard it. I did a google search on "go chase
> >> yourself." You should try it. There is a Lucille Ball movie with that
> >> name. I found a Dutch poem in English which uses the phrase, and a UK 
> site
> >> that equates it to "go fly a kite," one that I think most of us would 
> more
> >> likely reccognize, as well a "take a long walk off a short pier," "take a
> >> flying leap," etc.. An interesting one is "go to grass and eat hay." 
> Maybe
> >> that's where the cow is useful.
> >>
> >> Jim
> >>
> > One of the more creative insults that I can remember from the 1950s along 
> the
> > lilnes off "Take a flying leap" was "Take a flying fuck at a rolling 
> donut."
> > This only make sense, I guess, if said to men.
> >>
> >
> James C. Stalker
> Department of English
> Michigan State University

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