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Terminological Ramblings

An occasional series in which an expert considers a matter of general linguistic interest.

# 11 Ad Quaestionem Antiqui Externauit Spinosas Erycina by Synec Doche

What do we mean when, in a final - possibly decisive - rejoinder to an ongoing argument, we tell our interlocutor simply to "f**k off"? [See, for example, Dr Norm Alkurve's response to Professor Para Bola, Right of Re-reply #287b 16 April 2020.]

Though it would appear, on the face of it, to put a firm end-marker to the conversation or, at the very least, suggest an emphatic caesura, is the use of such an expletive a mark of finality, even a triumphant culminating terminus, or a signal of conceptual and intellectual failure? Might it be interpreted as conclusive sententia finis or, simply, a sign of frustration signalling the absence of additional convincing ["clinching"] evidential argument? Further, does such a phrase begin where persuasion and rationality end - witness, as it were, to a point at which there are simply insufficient expressive means available to express a sense of mounting exhaustion, futility and continuing disagreement - or, rather, end at a point where persuasion and rationality might never begin again? Does it, then, signify terminological [or worse, explicative] poverty or hyper-emotive power; subjugation and defeat or climactic hauteur? These are important - nay at a time of locked-down, self-isolating state-enforced trauma - vital questions.

Following Paddington [1838], most would, I think, argue, that telling one's adversary or conversational opponent to f**k off is a weak and - judged in retrospect - unsatisfactory flourish to brandish at the end of a long and one presumes initially cool-tempered encounter during which, far from meeting, minds have instead diverged. Recollected in tranquillity few surely would argue that shouting "f**k off" before exiting stage left [quite possibly into a broom cupboard] or slamming a door [leaving one or more digits behind] represents the apogee of any speaker's persuasive linguistic achievement. Rather - and this is of course far too simplistic - it is often taken to imply that they have "lost it", "blown a fuse", "lost grip", "surrendered the moral high ground" or simply "done one".

However, pace Euston [1834], I am inclined to agree with Waterloo [1848] who, quoting St Pancras [1868] famously said "Qui cum feris convenit ratione pertinax vis eius exibit de contemnenda gloria ejus est pellis magis nasum et labia tua" [roughly "He who meets stubborn logic with brutal force will emerge with scorn on his lips but more skin on his nose". Though an ancient insight - quite possibly Hellenistic in origin via Hypatia - I believe it is one from which we can still learn a great deal today.

Perhaps those who incline towards the diminishment of the value of expletives in any - though particularly in fraught - argument [eg Fenchurch-Street [1841] "Swearing is the blunt force trauma of open persuasion" or Moorgate [1865] "When I tell someone to f**k off they generally head-butt me into next week"] miss an important point which those who favour their use more readily understand: the sheer satisfaction of staring an annoying argumentative little f****r in the face and, spittle well-loaded, simply telling them to "f**k off" with all the power one can muster [eg Kensal-Green [1916, Blackfriars [1886, Charing & Cross [1864]]. To those who doubt the redemptive power of such a moment, I can only say: "try it" though possibly not on one's mother-in-law in the first instance.

Between Scylla and Charybdis: to f**k off or not to "f**k off: that according to correspondent Synec Doche is the question. ?

It will be clear then that in the case of this spinosa quaestio [thorny question] that despite centuries of debate, nothing much has yet been properly settled - unless, of course, having exhausted one's own patience in the whole matter, one inclines to the phrase - nay even to the terminal resolution - "oh f**k it!" and just leave it at that.

Placed between a rock and a hard place, when push comes to shove, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis and facing the strict disciple of a Procrustean bed, I would incline to the latter [see Finsbury Park [1861] The Art of the Putdown [Unputdownable Books] pp61-73].


What the f**k brought this on? [Ed]

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