June 23, 2006

More @!%!**#~@#!! Wisdom from Beetle Bailey

The Beetle Bailey cartoon that Mark Liberman just posted reminded me of an earlier Beetle Bailey offering on the symbols of cartoon cursing. I can't find the actual cartoon on the web, but I know it was from 1990, because I wrote about it some years back in a little article on language change for the Linguistic Society of America website (here):

In a 1990 Beetle Bailey cartoon, Sarge chews Beetle out with a string of symbols ending in #!!, and Beetle laughs, "#?? Nobody says # anymore!" Sarge, deflated, sighs, "Gee, I always thought # was all-time classic cussing." Sarge is embarrassed because with a very few exceptions -- notably the genuinely classic four-letter English words, at least one of which has a pedigree that includes a Latin obscenity written on the walls of ancient Pompeii -- using last year's slang spells social disaster.

So Beetle Bailey is an old hand at meta-commentary on obscenities. And maybe what the world needs now is an enthusiastic student to write a thesis on the orthography of cartoon cussing; we could even pass the hat around Language Log Plaza and offer a Language Log Fellowship for the purpose.

Posted by Sally Thomason at June 23, 2006 10:58 AM