Are there any scientific publications with swear words in them?

By: | Post date: 2016-07-25 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Well, there’s the classic ENGLISH SENTENCES WITHOUT OVERT GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS by Quang Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology (pseudonym of James D. McCawley, 1967), and several others in that vein. But that’s linguists writing about swearing, not swearing per se. (There’s was quite a trend of little “who, me?” bombs in linguistic examples in the late 60s and early 70s, prominently including John called Sam a republican, and then he insulted him from George Lakoff).

OP then asks:

Why censor people’s right to swear just because it is science?

Because it’s science. Scholarly papers are meant to at least pretend that they are arriving at rational conclusions through objective consideration of arguments. Swearing is avoided in scholarly papers, for the same reasons exclamation points are. Because it makes you look like you’re not a scholar, and can’t string together a convincing argument.


  • John Cowan says:

    The point of the example is that the sentence is grammatical only if the speaker thinks Republican (not republican) is an insult, hence grammaticality judgments can depend on political beliefs.

    • I don’t know if I think of it as grammaticality. The infelicity of colorless green ideas sleep furiously is truth-conditional and universal, whereas the infelicity of this phrase is individual and pragmatic. But if Chomsky defined the former as grammatical, that applies to the letter as well.

      That aside, it is adorable to watch generative semanticists in the early 70s stumble towards pragmatics.

      • John Cowan says:

        It seems to me that normally, the schema “X called Y a Z, and then Y insulted X” is infelicitous in all cases if Z is not an insult: “John called Mary his mother, and then she insulted him” can’t possibly be right for even vaguely normal people. The borderline case is where Z legitimately may or may not be an insult depending on X’s point of view.

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