Language Grammar

Swearing: A Cross-Cultural Linguistic Study by Magnus Ljung (auth.)

By Magnus Ljung (auth.)

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Extra info for Swearing: A Cross-Cultural Linguistic Study

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I would also like to exclude example (12) from the swearing category, but for a different reason. What has happened in (12) is that shit has developed a new literal meaning defined as ‘something’, ‘anything’ in Cassell’s dictionary of slang (2005: 1267). It appears that the word shit in English has developed several such meanings – which are not in themselves negative – as for instance in the expression get one’s shit together. Example (14) Niggers/Niggaz is said to represent ‘reclaimed usage’ of a basically derogatory term in the speech of African American rappers.

Other scholars also include other major themes, for example Pinker (2007), McEnery (2006) and Anderson and Hirsch (1985a). It is also clear that the choice of themes regarded as ‘major’ and ‘minor’, respectively, varies with the languages under discussion. The following are the major taboo themes used in swearing in the languages included in the present study: • • • • • The The The The The religious/supernatural theme scatological theme sex organ theme sexual activities theme mother (family) theme 36 Swearing In addition to these there are also a number of lesser themes, the most important of which are prostitution, certain illnesses and death.

It is true that both involve the use of the word shit which is clearly a taboo term both with regard to form and content. In example (1), shit could be regarded as a parallel to the word hell in constructions like He made her life hell which was denied swearing status in Chapter 1 on the grounds that in that context, hell is used in a clearly metaphorical manner with a meaning obviously inspired by the literal meaning of hell, viz. ‘a place of suffering’. The word shit in (1) – which incidentally I regard as a noun rather than as an adjective – is presumably also a metaphorical extension of the literal meaning of shit and can be interpreted as ‘something with no value’.

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