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vagina et alia

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The brouhaha over a Michigan state Representative being banned from speaking on the House floor after saying the word “vagina” has led to, among other outcomes, a spate of articles suggesting euphemisms for “vagina.”

For example, Naomi McAuliffe writes, in the Guardian:

Apparently, when discussing a medical procedure, it's not really appropriate to use medical words. Well not about lady bits anyway. It makes me wonder what euphemisms would be acceptable. “Will the representative get his hand out of the otter's pocket?” “Can the honourable gentleman refrain from trespassing in the lady cave?”

Otter's pocket! Apparently this is from the phrase “wetter than an otter's pocket,” which some people use to refer to weather (18-sec video), while others use it to refer to female (human) arousal.

Later in the same article, McAuliffe uses the terms “lady garden,” “fanny-fou-fah,” “fun tunnel,” and “growler.” All may well be in common use, but I don't think I'd heard any of them before. (I had heard “fanny,” but not “fanny-fou-fah” per se.)

Meanwhile, Sarah Ditum, writing in the New Statesman, mentions “tuppence,” her young daughter's made-up word “nooni,” “foof,” and “fandando.” (Along with several negative slang terms.)

Noreen Malone, probably joking, mentions “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” (Along with a few other more common ones I've seen before.)

And Sarah Mirk suggests “squiggly bits.”

(Found all of those linked from a Detroit Free Press blog post.)

Obscene intensifiers (probably NSFW)

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Today's xkcd comic strip shows a graph of frequency of usage, for a variety of adjectives, of the intensifiers “fucking” and “as shit.”

It's a cute graph, and some of the adjectives are kind of entertaining. I like the phrase “fucking apropos,” for example.

However, a lot of the instances of the phrases in question don't actually consist of intensifiers modifying adjectives at all—especially the instances of “fucking,” because there are a great many random-word spam pages containing that word in which it isn't used as an intensifier.

[A day after publishing this entry, I rephrased the above sentence for clarity, and added a couple of mentions of adverbs below.]

For example, try doing a Google search for ["fucking stochastic" -xkcd]. (The “-xkcd” part is to skip all the instances that were created today in response to the comic.) That search currently tells me there are about 28 results, which is presumably the number Munroe used for the comic. But in fact, if you click through to page 2, you see only 16 results.

Of those sixteen, eight (including all six on the second page of results) are porn spam pages that happen to have the words “fucking” and “stochastic” next to each other. (Including the amusing phrase “fucking stochastic frontier models with spatial component.”)

Two more results are for the phrase “XANAX is that fucking stochastic” on a Xanax spam page.

And five are for phrases in which “fucking” doesn't modify “stochastic” (that is, where it's an adjective rather than an adverb): “Fucking stochastic shite”, “FUCKING STOCHASTIC PROCESSES” (2 identical instances), “Fucking stochastic life-support system” (2 identical instances).

So it turns out that before this comic, there was actually only one instance on the entire web of “fucking stochastic” in which “fucking” modified “stochastic”:

The times, they are achanging, but whither and how, that is beginning to look fucking stochastic.

I imagine similar things are true of other “fucking” items on the list, but I'll stop now.

I realize that I'm partly nitpicking the comic's phrasing; does it really matter whether “fucking” is modifying an adjective or just appears in the same phrase with the adjective? The numbers are interesting either way.

But I'm also disagreeing with the comic's methodology, because the word “fucking” appears on so many web pages that I think the noise will drown out the signal for a lot of the less common adjectives, resulting in the numbers not really giving useful information about how real people use language.

Then again, the whole idea of using Google results numbers to calculate linguistic answers is a little dubious. (For example, notice how the number went from 24 to 16 when I went from page 1 to page 2; and notice that nearly half of the results were effectively duplicates.)

(I posted a slightly different version of this entry as a comment in the xkcd forum, then realized it would make a good entry here.)

Added later: a comment about adverbs from a friend made me realize that this would be a simpler way of saying much of what I said above:

Munroe is assuming that, in all instances of “fucking stochastic” on the web, “fucking” is an adverb. But in fact, there's only one instance where it's actually an adverb; in all the other instances, it's either an adjective or part of a random collection of words.

Graffiti in Pompeii

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Kendra tells me that a piece of graffiti found on a wall in Pompeii translates to “Everybody writes on walls except me.”

Which led me to search for other ancient graffiti. It looks like a lot of Pompeii's graffiti was pornographic and/or scatological; a fascinating look at ancient life. See also more Pompeii graffiti and even more Pompeii graffiti.

My other favorite, besides the one Kendra quoted, is this:

O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin.

Also of possible interest: graffiti at Maes Howe, a chambered tomb in Scotland. “These runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes in the western ocean. . . .”

fracking

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I turned on the radio during Talk of the Nation's Science Friday yesterday, in the middle of a segment about natural gas in water.

At one point (starting at 13:52 in the segment), the guest (Josh Fox, director of a documentary on the topic) said, fairly emphatically:

Chemicals in the fracking process are not supposed to be found in wells. [...] I happen to trust the citizens on the ground, who are saying, “Look, our water wasn't flammable before; they came and did a frack job; all of a sudden our water is flammable.”

And I thought, Wow, I had no idea that the term “frak” from Battlestar Galactica had gained such widespread acceptance. I heard it on Gilmore Girls once, but I don't think I've heard anyone else outside of sf circles say it; but here's a guy on the radio using it completely casually as a swear word, sounding like he says it all the time.

So I started to write this entry about it, but I had to go find the recording to get the quote right. And that was how I found out that the episode title was “New Film Investigates ‘Fracking’ For Natural Gas.”

Which made clear that I was misinterpreting something.

One quick web search later, I learned that hydraulic fracturing is a method of acquiring oil and natural gas, and that it's also known as “fracking.”

Which means that Fox wasn't swearing at all.

So instead of this being an entry about the use of a science fiction swear word in mainstream society, it's an entry about a word I hadn't previously known, and about the misinterpretations that can occur when you know a homophone for the word someone is actually saying.

Cursebird: swearing on Twitter

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Cursebird provides "a real-time feed of people swearing on Twitter."

It even shows a seven-day overview bar graph of the relative frequency of various common swear words.

Spanish profanity

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Recently happened across the Wikipedia article on Spanish profanity. The little I've read of it so far seems to be useful and interesting.

See also the articles on Portuguese profanity, Quebec French profanity, and Latin profanity among others.

Band name

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Just saw this headine:

Supreme Court Rules that Government Can Fine for 'Fleeting Expletives'

--Washington Post, April 28, 2009

Wouldn't "The Fleeting Expletives" be a good band name?

thrupenny bits

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Just encountered a comment in an article on Britain's Got Talent that refers to "a dancer who was show[ing] her thrupennie bits to the world."

Thruppence, or the threepenny bit, was, of course, a British coin worth three pence.

And "thrupenny bits" turns out to be Cockney rhyming slang for "tits."

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