The late 18th-century use of the word ‘huffle’ in the sense ‘perform fellatio’, for instance, was new to me, and indeed to the OED, which limply presents it as meaning only ‘to blow, or inflate’.
As Geoffrey Hughes noted in his excellent Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, the more charged a swear word is the more susceptible it becomes to grammatical transformation. This means that the boundaries between nouns and adjectives and adverbs can all get completely fucked up by swear words, and before you know it the little fuckers are everywhere.
One thing Robin never dared say, bless his little golden rayon cape, was ‘Holy Shit’, the uttering of which would certainly have KAPOWED him right off prime-time TV in those tender-eared days.
People are part families, part random things that catch attention, part forgetting and re-building from the ground up.
I have an emotional connection to words or expressions in Russian that I’ve never felt to English.
While speech that marks you as a stranger can be a curse, it can also be a blessing. Though I’m focusing here on the moments of embarrassment that reveal my outsider status, the truth is that those two languages jostling in my head have made my writing richer. When I’m writing and I’m stuck for a word in English, I think of what I want to say in Greek. Then I translate, sometimes going to my Greek dictionary and sometimes to the Greek-English dictionary that’s left over from a friend’s classes. Either way, I feel I end up linguistically where I want to be, forming a sentence through a detour away from English and back again.
"The phrase [‘wine-dark sea’] is alluring, stirring, and indistinctly evocative. It is also, strictly speaking, incomprehensible … In what way did the sea remind Homer of dark wine? And of the myriad ways to evoke the sea, why compare it to wine at all?”
A Winelike Sea by Caroline Alexander