Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Archive for the tag “grammar”

Fuck, there is no word like it

  • It’s one of the most recognized English words, all over the world.
  • It has tremendous grammar versatility as it can be used as a verb, adjective, adverb and noun, to name a few.  See YouTube reference here.
  • The same word can be used to describe pain, pleasure, hate and love.
  • And finally, of all the words in English that start with the letter “F”, it’s the only one that is referred to as the “F-word.”

That’s right, the word is Fuck, F-U-C-K.

I said it.  I typed it, and I hope you aren’t offended.

You see it’s necessary to point out the offensiveness of this word right away.  Despite its common use, fuck is a very strong and profane word in the English language that can offend easily and/or give a (negative) indication of your character, if you care.  Most English-speaking countries censor the word on television and radio.  The American Heritage Dictionary notes that many see the word as vulgar, improper and utterly taboo, and Wikipedia repeats that the word is highly offensive in the modern English-speaking world.

A study once done with the British public concluded that fuck was the third most severe profanity in the English language, right after one of its compound forms Motherfucker.  Use your imagination on what you think was number one.

What has suprised me is the use of the word among non-native English speakers and even more surprisingly among people who don’t speak much English at all!  Not a day goes by that I don’t see some use of the word on Facebook for example.  A recent example comes from a fellow American living in Argentina who went to a birthday party of her daughter’s friend.

  • At a birthday party today, Ann’s 5 year old Spanish-speaking friend says “F*!& You” to me. After my initial shock, I try to explain that it’s not a nice thing to say and then it is her turn to look shocked. Is this a result of the unedited English songs on the radio here? Is it completely harmless for a kid her age or should I make a big deal of it? I am going to freak out when it comes out of my child’s mouth.

There are many legends on the origin of the word, including two common explanations deriving from the acronym F.U.C.K:

Fornication Under Consent of the King: During the Black Death in the Middle Ages, towns were trying to control the population and required couples to get royal permission to have children.  Once the king granted them permission, they would then place a sign with the acronym “F.U.C.K” on their house to be visible form the road.

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge:  Many centuries ago this was the name of a legal offense for adultery or for out-of-wedlock and/or underage sex.  This was also the name of Van Halen’s third album.

In actuality, these are only myths about the word.  I know, it makes it far less interesting.

The real origin of the word is from cognates of Germanic languages, some saying from the German word frichen, meaning to strike.

  • German frichen (to strike)
  • Dutch fokken (to breed, to strike, to beget)
  • Norwegian fukka (to copulate)
  • Swedish fokka (to strike, to copulate)

Fuck in all its forms is still considered very vulgar, so be careful using it if you don’t fully understand what you’re saying.  All that being said, use of the word is becoming more and more accepted.  In 2005 the Canadian Press handbook added the infamous four-letter word and now considers it commonplace.  This year the term “F-Bomb” was officially added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary after having first surfaced in newspapers more than 20 years ago!

Fuck, there is no word like it.

Quick grammar practice if you dare:

  • John ______________ Nancy.  (Transitive verb)
  • John’s doing all the  ______________ work.  (Adjective)
  • John talks too  ______________ much.  (Adverb)
  • I don’t give a  ______________. (Noun)
  • What the ______________ are the words that stand for ____ ____ ____! (Acronym)

Fuck

 

To be or not to be… Tolerant

Tolerance.  It’s a noun and a politically-charged word, which naturally some preach and others detest.  It and its adjective form, tolerant, have been used in a social context for years and continue to be used, just for different reasons.  I read it in fact today in the comments of an article, “I think you need to start becoming more tolerant of others.”

Spanish is very precise with its verbs and has two verbs for the single verb ‘to be’ in English, ser and estar.  In general ser is the choice to talk about personality traits and things that are more permanent, like nationality or telling time, where estar is the choice for things that are temporal, like feelings or location.  This topic proves to be difficult for English speakers who are used to yet one verb.  In order to differentiate between a permanent trait and a temporal state, we English speakers have to use more words… more grammar, such as adverbs:

  • The water is cold.  (It’s still unclear whether the water is permanently cold or just temporarily cold.)
  • The water is always cold.  (Adding the adverb ‘always’ shows that cold is the water’s permanent state.)

In Spanish, the meaning of a sentence changes based on the verb choice, and not by adding extra words:

  • Ella es feliz.  (She is a happy person.) (Ser)
  • Ella está feliz.  (She is happy, in the moment for some reason.) (Estar)

It struck me recently when I was reminded that the adjective “tolerant” in Spanish goes not with estar, a temporal state verb, but with ser, the permanent state verb.  Through the grammar lens, I say it’s a great message: tolerance isn’t a temporary state that comes and goes, it’s something that we must ‘be’ in the diverse world we live in.

I think so at least.

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And PS – this was about the word ‘tolerant’ and not the verb ‘to tolerate.’  That is another subject for another day.

When Grammar Speaks

English speakers and English students will tell you that you use the Simple Present verb tense to express routine and habitual activities, or to express known facts or permanent states, where you use the Present Continuous to express temporary actions in the moment they are happening (I’m writing this blog post now, for example.)

It’s a fairly simple lesson and a boring one at that for an English student well-beyond the present tense, but there is something a bit tricky about this topic: stative verbs.  These are verbs that express just that, a state of being that stays the same rather than an action that changes.

To like and to love were included in the list of stative verbs that only can be used in the present tense.  I like McDonald’s, or I don’t like McDonald’s, depending on where you stand, for example.  Although it’s not as common, there are occasions when we use to like in the Present Continuous.

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  • How’s your new car Bill?
  • “I’m loving it.”

You see Bill can say “I’m loving it,” because it’s still a new experience.  Eventually, as time goes by and the new-car-smell fades away, he will have to decide if he likes his car or not and will then use the present tense.

But listen, this post isn’t intended to be a grammar lesson, and is instead to write about something interesting related to grammar and marketing.  McDonald’s current slogan (first launched in September of 2003) is “I’m lovin’ it,” which is technically the Present Continuous.

Based on the hopefully not too boring grammar description above of the Present Continuous, what the slogan is really telling you is that you’re loving it only as you’re eating it, because like all actions in the Present Continuous, it will pass.

Now of course this wasn’t McDonald’s intention.  Any marketer wants to instill a lasting message in its customers, perhaps more like the Spanish version, in the present tense, “Me encanta” (I love it.)

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Without a doubt the temporary nature of this grammar is true for Morgan Spurlock, Director and Star of the documentary Super Size Me.  He loved what he was doing for a short time, and made his point in the end about the diet.

Oh did he ever…

So in short, McDonald’s grammar choice really doesn’t give the message it wants, although many would argue it gives a more honest message.

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