A special thank you to my supervisor, Cliff Goddard, who provided innumerable suggestions, comments, references and ideas. Thanks also to the staff and students of the Linguistics Department at UNE-Armidale, who carefully and critically assessed my work; Lyn Farnsworth and Ben Abernethy, who provided a conducive living environment and numerous example sentences; and Arthur Baker, who patiently proofread this entire work and offered numerous corrections, improvements and amendments.
This thesis presents and defends semantic explications for a number of swearwords commonly used in Australian English. Its focus is on different constructions which can be conveyed using the three lexical forms shit, fuck and cunt. Contrary to the popular belief that swearwords are "meaningless", it is shown that each of these swearwords can be used to convey a number of specific meanings. These meanings are sometimes related, but each needs to be defined independently if similarities and differences between terms are to be precisely captured. Aspects of meaning discussed include the contrast between the exclamations Shit! and Fuck!, the common adjectival form fucking, the relationship of the referential term cunt to other uses, the contrast between fucking and making love, and the meaning conveyed by semi-metaphorical forms such as to kick the shit out of someone. The method of semantic representation adopted is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach advocated by Anna Wierzbicka and others. The explications presented here have a number of implications. Relevant issues examined include the relationship between referential uses of swearwords and the other meanings which they convey, the semantic importance of the consciousness of "phonetic form" in swearing, and the role of prototypes in the semantics of swearwords. The semantic characterisation of the concepts "swearing" and "swearword" is also discussed.
1. WHY SWEARING? ISSUES IN SWEARING RESEARCH (LITERATURE REVIEW)
1.1 WHAT IS SWEARING?
1.1.1 Commonsense definitions
1.1.2 Lexicographic definitions
1.1.3 Scholarly definitions
1.1.4 Swearing and slang
1.2 WHAT DO SWEARWORDS MEAN?
1.2.1 Dictionary definitions
1.2.2 Referential and emotive meanings
1.2.3 Degrees of obscenity
1.3 THE MORPHOLOGY AND SYNTAX OF SWEARING
1.4 WHY IS SWEARING "BAD"?
1.5 WHO SWEARS THE MOST?
1.5.1 Gender variation in swearing
1.5.2 The contexts of swearing
1.6 SWEARING IN THE AUSTRALIAN CONTEXT
2. EXPLICATIONS AND EVIDENCE
2.1 EXPLAINING MEANING: THE NSM APPROACH
2.2 THE ROAD AHEAD: AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
2.2.1 The selected items
2.2.2 The types of evidence
3. "DID YOU EVER REALISE YOU SHIT ME?": shit
3.1 THE CONSTRUCTIONS
3.2 SOME GENERAL COMMENTS
3.3 SPECIFIC EXPLICATIONS
3.3.1 Shit (referential)
3.3.3 Shit (stuff)
3.3.5 Shit (offence): You shit me/give me the shits/have got the shits
3.3.6 To kick/punch the shit out of someone
3.4 A UNITARY EXPLICATION?
4. "I WAS IN FUCKING HYSTERICS": fuck
4.1 THE CONSTRUCTIONS
4.2 SOME GENERAL COMMENTS
4.3 SPECIFIC EXPLICATIONS
4.3.1 Fuck (referential)
4.3.3 Fucking (adj)
4.3.4 Fuck off!
4.3.5 Fuck you!/get fucked
4.3.6 Who/what the fuck
4.3.7 I'm fucked
4.4 A UNITARY EXPLICATION?
5. "HE'S AN UGLY CUNT, ISN'T HE?": cunt
5.1 THE CONSTRUCTIONS
5.2 SPECIFIC EXPLICATIONS
5.2.1 Cunt (referential)
5.2.2 Cunt (insult)
5.2.3 Cunt of a . . .
5.3 A UNITARY EXPLICATION?
6. CONCLUDING REMARKS
6.1 THE SEMANTIC CHARACTERISATION OF SWEARING
6.1.1 What is swearing?
6.1.2 What is a swearword?
6.1.3 Reference and emotion revisited
6.1.4 Generality in meaning
6.2 SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE EXPLICATIONS
6.3 DIRECTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
6.3.1 The role of the phonetic component
6.3.2 Swearing with a positive meaning
6.3.3 The application of prototypes
6.3.4 Further explications
6.3.5 Further testing of the explications
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