colder than a witch's kiss

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Dec 15 18:25:36 UTC 2013

Technically we couldn't conclude anything at all. It is certainly
conceivable, if unlikely, that "SNAFU" was coined by a soft-spoken type who
explained it (and he have had to explain it to someone somehow) as "...
fouled up." Then his lowbrow pals added their own interpretation.

Of course, the coiner could have been *thinking* "fucked up" even as he was
saying "fouled up."

Anyhoo, the two forms are attested within a couple of years of each other
(if, of course, you count "all ------ i[" as an attestation - as I naively
do), which is at virtually the same instant in the history of English.

Of course, "fouled up" in the appropriate sense seems not to be attested
before ca1940 either, while "fucked up," thanks to the researches of the
undersigned, is known from at least 1864.

But the publishing climate of the pre-1930 world was such as to hinder even
the euphemistic "fouled up" from appearing in print. On the one hand, it
was too close to the earthy expression; on the other, sub-rosa publications
would eschew it, assuming it existed.

So go figure. I won't even start on "as a witch's tit," also unattested
before the '40s - even as "teat."


On Sun, Dec 15, 2013 at 12:41 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: colder than a witch's kiss
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Dec 15, 2013, at 11:45 AM, W Brewer wrote:
> > Chronology
> >
> But that can be notoriously misleading when dealing with taboo terms that
> are unlikely to have been recorded.  If "situation normal all fouled up" is
> attested earlier than "…fucked up" as a gloss for SNAFU, do we conclude
> that "fucked" is a dysphemism for the original "fouled"?  (I'm not saying
> it was attested earlier; after all, we may have contemporary journals or
> letters of soldiers who recorded the actual taboo meaning before the first
> appearance of the euphemistic version; I'm just saying that if we don't, we
> wouldn't conclude that "fouled" was the original expression.)
> LH
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