According to Linguists Gone Wild, the grammar of "FUCK!" tells us something about the evolution of language. "Fuck" is one of the English language's
November 17, 2005


According to Linguists Gone Wild, the grammar of "FUCK!" tells us something about the evolution of language. "Fuck" is one of the English language's few infixes, words that can be inserted into other words. Examples: Abso-fucking-lutely, Phila-fucking-delphia, etc.

You can't just stick your infix anywhere you want, though. "Philadel-fucking-a" doesn't sound right.

The other interesting thing about expletives is that they don't actually mean anything, at least not when used as expletives. If someone yells "Damn!" we don't assume that he's actually wishing damnation on anything.

We just know he's upset or maybe impressed, depending on the context.

Linguists Gone Wild thinks that infixes and expletives are holdovers from a proto-language that attached words to objects, but lacked the grammar to talk about anything besides the here and now. If you want to talk about hypotheticals, unseen entities, or the past, you need a grammar that can mark these distinctions. Yelling "FUCK!" doesn't mean anything, but it signals that the speaker is upset-here, now.

However, Gone Wild doesn't explain how the origins of expletives might have affected the location of natural infix breakpoints. Any linguists in the audience this afternoon?

Hat tip to Rob at Helpy Chalk

--Lindsay Beyerstein from

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