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Category: statistics

Shitgibbon frequencies

Discussion in the linguistic world has been swirling of late around a set of peculiar sweary compounds like shitgibbon, wankpuffin, and jizztrumpet. Ben Zimmer reveals their history, Taylor Jones describes their construction, and Gretchen McColloch discusses their constraints. She also proposes the term shitgibbon compounds, which I think is smashing, and I’m going to use it here.

Shitgibbon compounds aren’t new; Arika Okrent pointed out in a recent episode of Talk the Talk that one such construction, scumbucket, has been popular since the 70s. It appears in print as early as 1976.

For this post, I’m showing the frequency of many possible shitgibbon compounds, measured in raw Google hits, as a way of getting an idea of their popularity. (See the drawbacks of this method here.) This might give us some ideas about what works and what doesn’t. I chose these parts because these are the ones most commonly mentioned in the aforementioned articles. (A note to anyone who wants to recheck these results: After 75 searches, Google asked me to confirm that I wasn’t a bot. It did it again after 150 searches.) Although I enclosed these terms in quotes, Google appeared to include versions with spaces and hyphens into the count.

Per Zimmer, each of these shitgibbons start with a monosyllabic sweary word, and the other two syllables are a trochee; a two-syllable word with the stress on the first syllable. Jones and McColloch point out that not every trochee works, though: ass-master is not an insult, and you can call me a cock-ninja anytime.

Here’s the chart. I’ve sorted the rows and columns by total frequency.

Let me make some observations along traditional the usual lines.

Phonological

Swear words in English appear to have a strong tendency to end in a stop. This puts some constraints on what kind of trochee is likely to follow. Trochees that start with a stop (these are sounds like /p/, /b/, /t/, /k/, and so on) are the least popular, staying largely at the bottom of the chart (except bucket). Trochees that start with a nasal or with /w/ are popular. Something striking: no fricatives (except /w/)Carrie reminds me that /w/ isn’t a fricative, so no fricatives.

Going along with McColloch, it looks like similar consonants don’t play well together. These are unpopular:

  • pisspuffin
  • cockcanoe
  • wankweasel

Additionally, having the swear end with the same sound as the trochee seems to be a no-no. Not very frequent:

  • twattrumpet
  • cunttrumpet
  • (but note the popularity of shittrumpet)

Having two of the same vowel is great.

  • twatwaffle
  • shitgibbon
  • fucktrumpet
  • fuckbucket
  • fucknugget (especially notable when –nugget doesn’t go with much else)
  • cockwaffle
  • cockwomble
  • (however very few examples of scumtrumpet)

Lexical

Some of these shitgibbons appear to be lexicalising. Fartknocker was popularised as an insult by Beavis and Butthead, so it’s had a headstart. Same with douchecanoe, often used on the net and popular despite canoe not being a trochee.

For the well-publicised ones (cockwomble, jizztrumpet, wankpuffin, and of course shitgibbon), some of the hits seem to be part of the discussion around these terms.

Semantic

With the evident lack of popularity for trochees that begin with a stop, how do we explain the popularity of bucket? Bucket goes well with excretions that you might actually keep in a bucket (jizz-, spunk-, shit- — though strangely not piss-)

Some of these appear not to be insults, but as something else, and this might be adding to their count.

  • fartnugget – the result of a really severe shart
  • douchenozzle – they really do have nozzles

The trochee waffle is popular across the board, and I think this might be because waffle is a funny sort of word. So is bucket. But wombles are funny, and yet not widely taken up, with the exception of cockwomble.

Which raises a question: The fuck’s a womble?

A womble is a fictional animal that picks up rubbish. Animals are good, the siller the better.

  • weasel
  • puffin
  • gibbon

Perhaps we should expect to see the appearance of lemur, but its spelling makes it difficult to find the boundary between swear and trochee. Spot the boundary on these:

  • shitlemur
  • fucklemur
  • jizzlemur
  • cocklemur, which my computer wants to correct to cocklebur

Hyphens and spaces might help lemur join the ranks of sweary animals.

Let me know what you think about this chart, or if there’s anything obvious I should have included. My email is talkthetalk@rtrfm.com.au

Australia 2011 Census: Mark “No Religion”

A follow-up to the UK census post: the Atheist Foundation of Australia has launched the “Mark ‘No Religion’” campaign.

The AFA will be unveiling billboards across the nation in major cities stating “Census 2011: Not religious now? Mark ‘No religion’ and take religion out of politics.”

“It is time the Australian community questioned whether they hold religious beliefs or not. How they answer this question in the Census will influence decisions by Australian governments. Often the transfer of taxpayer money to religious organisations is justified on the basis of the Census results, as are special concessions and exemptions including the right to discriminate against some groups.

Of course, the ‘No Religion’ box is for the people who haven’t quite made it all the way to ‘Atheist’ yet. If you do identify as ‘Atheist’ or even ‘Agnostic’, feel free to write that in. Both categories are recognised on the census, so commentators can include them in with the non-religious vote.

One thing isn’t clear: what happens to joke answers like ‘Jedi’ et al. I can’t tell if they get dumped into the ‘did not answer’ bin, so don’t write them and risk not being counted. Let’s make the number of non-religious Australians zoom up this year.

Census: ‘Atheism’ or ‘No Religion’?

Now here’s an effort I can get behind. Atheist Ireland requests that if you’re not religious, don’t automatically tick the box for a religion in the upcoming census.

Be Honest to Godless in the Irish Census on Sunday 10 April. Think before you tick. And if you’re not religious, please tick the no religion box.

It’s now three months to the next Irish Census on 10 April, and Atheist Ireland wants to see an accurate answer to the question on religion. You won’t write in your childhood home address unless you still live there. So don’t write in your childhood religion unless you still really practice it.

Sounds reasonable. And the British Humanist Organisation is saying the same thing.

If you say you’re religious on the census and don’t really mean it, then you are treated by some sections of the media, churches, and even government policymakers as if you are a fully-fledged believer.

This is significant for Australians because we’re having a census of our own in August this year. We have a census every five years instead of ten. (Takes less time to count us.) The 2006 census was the first time I’d identified as “No Religion” (but I didn’t identify as an atheist). I have to say, it was a somewhat exhilarating experience, one that you can enjoy for yourself. I’m really looking forward to see how the unchurched categories jump, as they have consistently done.

But somewhat strangely, the Irish Atheists are requesting that atheists not say they’re atheists.

Please don’t write in ‘Atheist’, or anything else that is not a religion, in box number 6, which says ‘write in your RELIGION’. That makes some people mistakenly think that atheism is a religion, and creates the impression that there are far fewer atheists than is actually the case.

Okay, so atheism is not a religion. But if someone asked me, “What religion are you?” I’d say, “None; I’m an atheist.” So I can see “No religion” or “Atheism” as appropriate answers. The confusion about atheism-as-religion is annoying, but people won’t suddenly straighten themselves out from the census alone. It’s the kind of thing you have to explain to people over and over, one person at a time. Which we will continue to do after the census is over.

And if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to say “Don’t write in ‘Atheism’ because not enough people will write in ‘Atheism'”. Let’s turn that argument on its head — do write ‘Atheism’ so that more people will be writing ‘Atheism’!

How does the religion question work for Australia? The Australian Bureau of Statistics has a space for the categories “No Religion”, “Atheism”, and “Agnosticism”. (Download an Excel spreadsheet of all the religious data on this page.) I plan on writing in ‘Atheism’ because observers and journalists will group atheists in with the ‘No Religion’ category anyway, and why not be as specific as possible? And, of course, if atheists write “Atheism”, then more atheists will be identifying explicitly as atheists, which is a good thing.

That’s my argument, anyway. But what is everyone else doing?

As a final note, the LDS Church claims that there were 108,851 Mormons in Australia in 2006. In the same year, only 52,141 people self-identified as LDS. You’d think saying “I’m LDS” would be some kind of minimal requirement to be considered a member. Do you think the LDS Church is not doing their best to keep a really accurate count?

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