Saturday, August 27, 2005


Freakin' TATs

It seems like there has been a renaissance of the word "freakin'" as a "taboo avoidance" word for "f*cking." (Okay, so the * is my own taboo avoidance.) For example, here, here, here, and here. The word is particularly popular over at The Tonya Show: if you run this Google search in the search window of her blog, you get 22 separate posts that use "freakin'."

I like "freakin'." (I mean the use of the word. Well, the other thing too.) It's so cute and quaint, like the kind of cuss words that you'd find in West Side Story, which has the most boy-scoutish portrayal of street gangs ever to hit stage or screen. "Gee, Officer Krupke -- Krup you!"

Speaking of taboo avoidance. Let's turn to the Journal of Anthropological Research, and scroll down to the article entitled "Menstruation as a Verbal Taboo among the Akan of Ghana," which explains:
The use of euphemisms is the most popular verbal Taboo Avoidance Technique (TAT) among the Akan.
Well, euphemisms are a popular TAT everywhere. According to The Free,
The euphemistic expression breathe one's last illustrates a widespread linguistic and cultural phenomenon known as taboo avoidance.
Of course, "freakin' " is not a euphemism, which is substituting a word or phrase that has acquired the same meaning but has an entirely different derivation. Euphemisms for "f*ck" are words and phases like "screw," "play hide the salami," "bury the bone" or "make the beast with two backs." Freakin' is something else ("freakin' is somethin' else, man"), involving substituting sound alike words or sound-alike non-words, and if I'm not mistaken, one of my linguistics friends will soon send a comment or email with the correct name for the freakin' form of TAT.

Let's look at some other fun taboo avoidance words (TAWs). For F*ck: freak, frig, frick, fug, f---, boink, bonk, pork, and in many song lyrics, rock. For Jesus Christ: Jeez, sheezus, cheezus, cripes, crikey and Jiminy Cricket. For damn: darn, dang, durn, and if you want to throw God in: goll, gollie, gosh, not to mention gollie gee and gollie jeez. And also dad burn and dad gum for god damn. For sh*t: shoot.

Gosh darn, I'm all out of TAWs. Do you have any?

My mother would start to say "shit" and slide into "sugar." Oh, shhhh-ugar.
building on kathyr's comment, when we were little, we would say "sugar honey iced tea" instead of the infamous "sh*t"

and i must confess to being appalled (since my move to the midwest forced me to drop the meatier tone of my new york expletives) to find myself repeatedly saying "jeez louise."
these aren't original, but are science fictiony replacements for curse words that have been creeping into common speech (especially amongst fans of said SF shows). Replacing the "f" word: Frag/fraggin - as in "abso-fraggin-lutely!" (Babylon 5), frell/frelling (Farscape), and most recently, frack (Battlestar Galactica). Farscape has other words, meanings indicated from context: hezmana (hell), mibonx (balls), and trelk (slut or "ho").

And since I'm still in the NY metro area, I haven't had to drop any of my meatier ny expletives.
Well, OK, this is one of your linguistic friends; you can call me 'Mr. Verb' (but some call me 'Two G'). And before you even have a chance to think it to yourself: Yes, I should start my *own* blog where I could hold forth for pages without end, including rich graphics, on these and sundry other matters. I actually think you do a good job on the substance of the freaking post. I'm not sure that lexical semantics people and lexicographers would buy the actual way you use euphemism, but hey, I'm not one of those people. What prompts me to write is a very interesting chain of connections you raise:

First, you make the point early on that freaking isn't really related to fucking. But the term fucking under discussion here is an intensifier -- what it really *means* here is 'extremely', with the little added spice that using a taboo word buys you in these deals. A big leap has already taken place in English, then, from to fuck (that is, just to be clear, 'to have intercourse') and a particular inflected form of that word, let's call it a gerund, formed with -ing (as in fucking like rabbits) to get to the word you're writing about. This particular intensifier has a checkered history in English and in linguistic analysis -- just see the famous Linguistic Inquiry article by John McCarthy about English infixation, which uses fucking (bloody, freaking, f-ing, etc.) to create forms like outfuckingrageous, constifuckingtutional, Philafuckingdelphia (whose Phillies I hope won't beat your beloved Mets for the NL wild card), and so on. (McCarthy showed that the metrical structure of English neatly defines where this can and cannot be inserted (pun in original article).

But second, freaking actually *does* mean fucking, in the older sense, at least today. Check out, which says (among other things):

1. freak
v. to have intercourse or make out
... She likes to freak on a regular basis.

A cool possibility from a linguist's point of view is that this is the most recent usage, and developed from older senses of that verb. (By the way, Oxford English Dictionary suggests that Milton actually coined the word -- with profoundly different semantics, needless to say. Bottom line: it might be that there used to be no direct connection between the verbs but that one has arisen.

Go freaking figure.

Mr. Verb
My favorite TAT for f*ck, besides f*ck, is "fudge". It accomplishes 2 things. (a) It is a TAT, and (b) most likely when I say "fudge!", it is because I am angry. As soon as I say it, I think "Yum, fudge" and forget why I was angry.

Yum... fudge....
Wow! mr. verb, you are freakin' amazing.
Mr Verb,

Thanks for getting your freak on right here on my blog! I hope you realize that your comment dramatically increases the number of hits that will accrue to this blog from people searching for porn sites on Google. The word porn by me just there will too. Damn, did it again!

How's that for a subject of linguistics study -- "Google syntax and unintended communicative effects."

On the web, f*ck is not only a taboo avoider, but also a Google avoider.
I was going to get f*cking pissed that you didn't link to my usage of the term, but then I realized I used "frickin'" instead.

Sorry if "f*cking" doesn't help bring freaks to the site via Google searches.
A couple of TATs from the 80s:

"flip" was popular, as in "That's so flippin' awesome."

Then there were the very clever people who, making use of the junior high joke, "What begins with an f and ends with "u-c-k?" (answer: firetruck) would say something like, "I'm so firetruckin' pissed right now."
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