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Profanity in the film 1917
Posted: 01 February 2020 07:43 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I just watched the film 1917, which received 10 nominations, including best picture, for the Academy Awards. The story is about two British soldiers during War World 1.

I observed the use of the word fuck numerous times in the film and also a one-time expression of fuck me. This is typical of filmmakers who need to further dramatize a story by using au courant expressions that were rarely in use at the time the story had taken place. British soldiers would certainly have used the word bloody, which was considered obscene at the time, and for some people still is, but was rarely used in the film, but the word fuck, in the year of 1917, would not be common usage at the time even amongst British soldiers. 

In my opinion this does not lend authenticity to a film. It’s contrived, but filmmakers find it is easier to rely on clichés and formulae than to make sure their film is as authentic as possible.

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Posted: 02 February 2020 12:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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You’re just plain wrong about “fuck” generally, which was in common use in that time period.

You might have a point about “fuck me” as an interjection which near as I can discern was not common until the middle of the 20th century.

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Posted: 02 February 2020 04:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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From The Middle Parts of Fortune, Frederic Manning’s classic fictionalised account of his WWI experiences:

‘Well, you can fuck me!’ exclaimed the astonished Martlow.”

Fuck and fucking crop up frequently in dialogue throughout the book. Manning was an Australian, but he served in British regiments. So this, widely acclaimed as one of the most realistic depictions of the Western Front, certainly supports not only the routine use of the words, but also quite specifically of ‘fuck me’ in WWI British soldiers’ speech.

But because, except in very rare instances like this book - which wasn’t widely available in unexpurgated form till 1977 - in previous generations four-letter words were routinely expurgated in print from the talk of soldiers and sailors, our minds are conditioned to assume that they weren’t there in the first place, and it can often sound forced and unnatural to our ears when they are put back in.

[ Edited: 02 February 2020 04:05 AM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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Posted: 02 February 2020 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Manning’s book was written in 1929, so it’s a later re-creation of the language used, but it’s almost certainly accurate. This is the earliest citation of “fuck me” in Sheidlower’s F-Word and in the OED.

Fuck you, go fuck yourself, and fucked up are all recorded in verbatim transcripts from before WWI

Fuck did not become common in print until the latter half of the twentieth century, but it was clearly in oral use for centuries before this. There’s no reason to believe the word was not part of the everyday speech of WWI soldiers.

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Posted: 02 February 2020 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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You’re just plain wrong about “fuck” generally, which was in common use in that time period.

That’s quite an emphatic assertion. Do you have any documentation to support your claim? I understand that obscenities were quite common amongst soldiers, especially during combat, but “bloody” was a far more common as an expletive for the British, but in the film it was rarely used compared to fuck. I think it might have been used once.

Also, if you use the Ngram viewer you will observe that bloody was a far more popular usage than fuck, especially in the early 20th century. Fuck me, was almost non existent.

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Posted: 02 February 2020 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Also, if you use the Ngram viewer you will observe that bloody was a far more popular usage than fuck, especially in the early 20th century. Fuck me, was almost non existent.

Google Ngrams cover only published sources which deliberately avoid the word, so of course the incidence of fuck will be lower than actual, oral use if you look there. Ngrams is not a good source for slang or profanity, at least not if you want to quantify the incidence of use.

A book about WWI, written some ten years after the war, includes fuck me, so that’s pretty good evidence that the phrase was known to the soldiers. And as pointed out above, there are similar uses of fuck that make it into the written record prior to the war.

It’s a certainty that fuck was in common use among WWI soldiers. Whether or not it was more common than bloody is probably impossible to determine.

The authoritative source for all things fuck is Sheidlower’s The F-Word.

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Posted: 02 February 2020 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I asked the same question about the tv series, Deadwood. Consensus is that the word “fuck” was in liberal use in the mid-nineteenth century.

Though, ”Sheidlower agrees that the F-word was in use back then. But he says most of the nonsexual uses of it—as an intensifier, for example—didn’t come about until around World War I.
“Motherfucker, as far as anyone knows, was not in use at the time,” he adds. “There are examples of ‘mother fucking’ from court cases in Texas in the late 1880s.” (It was used as an insult.) However, “the word itself doesn’t show up until late nineteen-teens.”

[ Edited: 02 February 2020 12:53 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 03 February 2020 12:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Logophile - 02 February 2020 09:33 AM


That’s quite an emphatic assertion.

Thank you.

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Posted: 03 February 2020 02:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Ngrams is not a good source for slang or profanity, at least not if you want to quantify the incidence of use.

The neatest illustration of this fact that I know of is that, as first published in Sydney in 1897, W T Goodge’s classic poem The Great Australian Adjective contains no incidences of the adjective in question at all (there are 31 non-incidences). And thirty years later the Australian writer A G Stephens wrote a whole column lamenting ”the constant use of the wordin the Sydney Morning Herald without feeling able to name it either. So if it were possible to produce an Ngram for the use of the word in Australia alone (is it? I have no idea what you can or can’t do with Ngrams) in those thirty years, I’m sure you would find the incidence very low.

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Posted: 03 February 2020 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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You can limit Ngrams to American or British publications, but that’s it. (At least in the public interface. I gather there are researchers that can get permission to access the data directly and through custom interfaces they design themselves.)

There are various, very useful corpora of English at English-corpora.org, hosted by Brigham Young University. But these have many of the same limitations. The only comprehensive historical corpus there is limited to American edited publications. (But it does include Early English Books Online, so it has coverage of the early modern period.) There are international corpora of web sources that are good for slang and profanity, but these, obviously, are limited to the present and very near past.

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Posted: 03 February 2020 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s a certainty that fuck was in common use among WWI soldiers. Whether or not it was more common than bloody is probably impossible to determine

I don’t understand how you can make that assertion. Sheidlower claimed that its use as an intensifier didn’t come about until World War 1; but isn’t that a supposition, he can’t possibly know it as a fact and at its precise date.  Furthermore if it did indeed come about World War 1 that wouldn’t indicate that it was immediately and lavishly used by every British soldier.

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Posted: 03 February 2020 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Logophile - 01 February 2020 07:43 PM


[...] but the word fuck, in the year of 1917, would not be common usage at the time even amongst British soldiers. 

That is an opinion.  Lacking evidence, it should not be mistaken for a factual assertion.

Logophile - 03 February 2020 09:12 AM

Sheidlower claimed that its use as an intensifier didn’t come about until World War 1; but isn’t that a supposition, he can’t possibly know it as a fact and at its precise date. 

How can you know that your contrary supposition is a fact?  Asserting it in strong terms is not the same as presenting evidence.

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Posted: 03 February 2020 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Here’s a list of non-sexual uses of fuck from Sheidlower’s The F-Word. All predate, are contemporaneous with WWI, or are in a WWI context written within about ten years of the war’s end. Where the word has been bowdlerized, it’s clear from context that fuck is intended.

Let’s start with this one, which is particularly relevant as it compares fuck with bloody. From a 1921 Notes & Queries article about WWI slang written by a former soldier in the British army:

The great difficulty in dealing with the question in print is that the soldier’s actual speech generally out-Masefielded Masefield and was quite unprintable; indeed it was absolutely impregnated with one word which (to use it as a basis for alliteration) the fastidious frown at as “filthy.” The philosophic mind, to which no word can in itself be “filthy,” would rather emphasize its inappropriateness: for it was used adjectivally to qualify almost every noun in the soldier’s vocabulary, as a verb to tell objectionable people what to do with themselves, and as an exclamation to express that disgust with things in general that Army ways encourage. Words were split up to admit it: “absolutely” became “abso—lutely,” and Armentières became “Armen—teers.” “Bloody,” so popular and helpful a word in civil life, quite lapsed as being too polite and inexpressive. The explanation is, of course, simple: the conditions and regulations of active service were so exasperating that only frequent use of the foulest word in the language could afford any adequate relief to a man’s feelings. It conquered all English-speaking armies, and was at least as popular with Americans and overseas men as with ourselves. There were, naturally, some choice spirits who did not use it; but they were not typical.

The others in no particular order:

ca. 1790 “give a —”
1864 “why the puck” (sic)
1919 “blow to fook, shatter to fragments” (sic, WWI context)
1776 “I shall be f—d”
1866 “fucked out of his money”
1918 “Aw, fuck ‘im” (WWI context)
1925 “Fuck it” (WWI context)
1921–24 “Completely miserable; friged, fucked, and far from home” (WWI context)
1929 “Fuck me” (WWI context)
ca. 1915 “F— you” (WWI context)
1895 “Fuck yourself”
1929 “fuck” (interjection, WWI context)
1916 “a fucking coward” (WWI context)
1918 “not a fuck-all to do”
1922 “going to fuck about” (T.E. Lawrence, post-WWI RAF context)
1923 “fucked off” (angry)
1863 “fucked up”
1918 “fucker” (WWI context)
1915 “God damn the fucking lot (Ezra Pound)
1915 “you fucking xt” (WWI context)
1890–93 “Fucking [...] adv. (common) Intensive and expletive; a more violent form of bloody” (Farmer & Henley)
1918 “fucking serious” (WWI context)
1929 “fuck off” (WWI context)
1922 “short-arsed little fuck-pig” (T.E. Lawrence, post-WWI RAF context)
1929 “fucked up” (WWI context)

Is that enough evidence?

[ Edited: 03 February 2020 01:22 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 03 February 2020 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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How can you know that your contrary supposition is a fact?  Asserting it in strong terms is not the same as presenting evidence.

Did you read how I phrased the sentence? Sheidlower claimed that its use as an intensifier didn’t come about until World War 1; but isn’t that a supposition, he can’t possibly know it as a fact and at its precise date.

It was phrased rhetorically. Sheidlower claimed that its use as an intensifier didn’t come about until World War 1. Did he know this as a fact or was it a supposition? My supposition was not articulated as a fact. We understand that the word was rarely used in published writing, according to Google Ngram, but how do we know that it was lavishly used by word of mouth during World War 1.

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Posted: 03 February 2020 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Consider, if you will, this page from Slang and its analogues past and present. A dictionary, historical and comparative of the heterodox speech of all classes of society for more than three hundred years. With synonyms in English, French, German, Italian, etc, compiled by British lexicographers John Stephen Farmer and William Ernest Henley. This edition was printed in 1893: quite some time before WWI but I’m not aware that verbal puritanism upticked in the early part of the 20th century.

Is it your view, logophile, that British soldiers were outstandingly clean-mouthed for the era?

2633285f-fc70-462b-889a-fe74dd2f1f6d.jpe

Fricatrix: now there’s a word you don’t hear every day.

Edit: I wish I’d found this work before. There are some gems. “Simple infanticide”, “keeping down the census”, “to box the Jesuit” lol.
4578530f-d129-4abe-8b4a-130d0efeb0c2.png
8cbb68f6-2dbf-4261-beda-55cd982348ed.png

[ Edited: 03 February 2020 06:35 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 03 February 2020 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Is it your view, logophile, that British soldiers were outstandingly clean-mouthed for the era?

Where did I imply that in my comments? And wouldn’t it be silly if I did?  As I said, I would have thought that British soldiers would have used the more British intensifier, bloody .

OED

bloody, adj., n., and adv.

(a) As an intensifier: absolute, downright, utter. Formerly sometimes in a negative sense: awful, terrible. More recently also as a mere filler, with little or no intensifying force (although generally implying some element of dislike, frustration, etc., on the part of the speaker). Cf. sense C. 2a.
For a discussion of the possible origin of this sense and its adverbial counterpart see note in etymology.
This word has long had taboo status, and for many speakers constituted the strongest expletive available. This is reflected in the regularity with which dashes, asterisks, etc., were formerly used to represent the word in print, and in the large number of euphemistic forms to which it has given rise, including bee n.3, bleeding adj. 5, blerry adj., plurry adj., sanguinary adj. 4, and perhaps blooming adj. 4. In the case of the adverb, the considerable public reaction to the utterance of the word on the London stage in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion in 1914 (see quot. 1914 at sense C. 2b) gave rise to the further humorous euphemism Pygmalion adv.  In most contexts the word’s taboo status has now been largely or entirely lost; the process of normalization seems to have begun earliest in Australia. 

Following the original use in England, Scotland, and Ireland, the sense spread to most other parts of the English-speaking world, with the notable exception of the United States, where it has apparently only ever achieved limited currency, e.g. among sailors during the 19th cent.
bloody hell: see hell int.

Bold emphasis added

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