Thursday, April 18, 2013

How Dastardly is the English Language?

When I was in college, I took Mandarin Chinese for a few semesters. To me, the most amazing thing about the language is that a small change in tone can drastically alter a word's meaning. For instance, the word "ma" can mean mother, hemp, horse, or scold, depending on which of the four tones is used. Similarly, in English, there are many words that have multiple meanings. Those meanings are more often determined by the context, though. Here's an example:

However, today we're not going to focus on words with multiple meanings. Rather, let's examine some words and phrases in the English language that sound strikingly similar to swears, dirty words, or otherwise unpleasant terms.

For each term, I'll give the actual definition and a few thoughts. If you can't figure out the unpleasant phrase it mimics, you've certainly never played sports or worked in a New York City public school.

dastardly--cowardly and malicious; base; sneaky
The English language is extremely sneaky. It tries to get people to say bad words even when they aren't intending to do so. For example, how many of you have incorrectly read the word organism as "orgasm"? Yeah, me too.

wenis--the skin at the tip of your elbow

The existence of a site called "" renews my faith in humanity after a trying week.

Another anatomical term that sounds like the anatomical term for a private part (incidentally, the same private part as the one alluded to several times above).

masticate--to chew food
Not touching this one. (Excuse the pun.)

Dolores--a common female name

Fuddrucker's--restaurant chain that specializes in hamburgers
Just look at what Fuddrucker's turned into in the highly underrated comedy Idiocracy:


Fosbury Flop--popular method used in the high jump
Okay, I actually have to explain this one. The Fosbury Flop, which is named after Olympian Dick Fosbury, is the preferred method for most world-class high-jumpers. To me, though, it's always sounded like a move from the Kamasutra. The Nirvana, the Rocking Horse, the Erotic V, and the Fosbury Flop. (Yes, Google just came in very handy.)

Croton Falls--village in Northern Westchester, New York
Oh, the fun we used to have imitating the conductor on drunken train trips home from Manhattan. "Scrotum Balls! Scrotum Balls Station here."

Grendel--antagonist in the epic poem Beowulf
I'd love to drink mead and chat with Beowulf about that annoying, painful Grendel he's been dealing with.

It seems, then, that the English language is extremely dastardly, but also hilarious. Be forewarned that there's a big downside to using any of these words or others (seamen, niggardly, and angina, to name a few). If your boss doesn't have a strong grasp of English, you could be fired for using a (sort of) harmless phrase.

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