A remarkably large fraction of obscenities in English are highly idiomatic, in that they don’t make any apparent grammatical sense, and in many cases it would be rather hard to explain to someone else just why the phrases in question are obscene. This doesn’t seem to be quite as prevalent in other languages; French and Spanish tend to favor full noun phrases or imperatives, and Hebrew favors complete sentences whose meaning as a curse is fairly obvious.
My question is: Does anyone have some thoughts about the origins of these phrases? Not the origins of the specific words – that’s a different question – but what the original sentences or constructions were which, over time, degenerated into irregulars in English?
Some examples: “shit” and “fuck” as isolated interjections. Many of the phrases associated with “fuck” don’t have any obvious reason for their obscenity beyond the simple presence of the word; e.g. “fuck off,” “go fuck yourself,” “what the fuck.”
For comparison, there are some grammatically sensible cases: a wide range of vocatives which implicitly compare the target to something unpleasant (“asshole,” “bitch,” “son of a whore,” racial epithets sundry and varied). French gives more complete phrases – “va te faire enculer” (“go get fucked up the ass”) could be interpreted as somewhat threatening (“I’m going to fuck you up the ass”).
For comparison on the matter of why things are obscene – the vocatives, again, implicitly compare people to the unpleasant, so that has a certain sense. But Hebrew curses typically don’t have any words that are per se impolite; they run more towards “may the earth open up and swallow him.” (And thus the need to borrow obscenities from other languages when one wishes to be vulgar rather than invocative)
This post had nothing at all to do with the contents of today’s news. Really.