God dead; "fuck" now the most important word in the language
Yes, it's an irretrievably silly idea, but a wonderful example of
linguifying (a phenomenon named here
by Geoff Pullum on July 3). And by the Indian spiritual figure who
calls himself Osho, so it has something of a higher imprimatur.
Having floated this remarkable proposal, Osho goes on, in a YouTube video
to riff at length on the uses of the word "fuck", exhibiting along the
way the tenuous grasp of grammatical terminology that has so often
nettled us here at Language Log Plaza.
"Osho - Strange Consequences" begins with eye-catching screen:
"God is dead"
F*CK became the most
important word in the
Osho then appears (clad in white and gray, and sitting on a
silver-patterned throne-like chair) to announce, "If God is dead, then
you lose the most important word in your language. And you will
need a substitute." God (or perhaps "God", there's no way to
tell) is one extreme, Osho explains, and when one extreme disappears,
you will inevitably fall to the other extreme. (Why don't you
just promote the #2 item at that extreme, I wondered. But I'm
just a linguist, not a seer, so I probably don't understand these
matters deeply enough.) And so, he tells us, "fuck" has become
the most important word in our language. Beautiful linguification.
After some reflection on how Nietzsche would take this development,
should he return from the dead, Osho undertakes to provide a report on
the uses of the word "fuck". And gives us another item in the
rich genre of playing in public with the word.
First comes the grammatical prelude. Osho tells us that it can be
a transitive verb ("John fucked Mary" -- all these examples are his, by
the way), an intransitive verb ("Mary was fucked by John" -- oh dear,
well, passive verbs lack direct objects, but the label "intransitive"
would normally be reserved for things like "Mary fucks like crazy"), or
a noun ("Mary is a fine fuck"). Or "as an objective", as in "Mary
is fucking beautiful". This last bit of terminology isn't
borderline; it's totally fucked. But we are forever noting here
on Language Log that most people -- including a lot of English
professors and other people who really ought to know better -- are
pretty hazy on grammatical terminology, using it primarily as
intellectual parsley, an attractive garnish to the things they really
care about. Why should we expect more of a holy man? After
all, Osho did get "transitive verb" and "noun" right; he's batting at
least .500, which is a pretty good average for connecting with
grammatical terminology these days.
Then comes a long riff on uses of "fuck", to convey aggression,
suspicion, enjoyment, request, and much more -- there's no point in
trying to take this inventory of uses seriously -- and concluding
advice to begin the day by meditatively repeating the mantra "Fuck
you!" five times. And he grins mischievously. The audience
goes wild. (Why can't I get audiences like this?)
[Thanks to Vishy Venugopalan for the pointer.]
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at August 24, 2006 01:18 PM