By their euphemisms shall ye know them.
I am hardened—how not?—but I gather that motherfucker, that “Oedipal polysyllable,” remains the most (least?) popular of all the so-called “obscenities.” The dirtiest of the dirty, the least permissible among all the tabooed. Rivaled only by cunt, and of course far, far younger as a coinage, it is presumably the innate incestuousness that gets everyone’s knickers in a twist. This is not just to have sex, but to have sex with your, omigod, mother. It seems to have been an African-American coinage, of the 1890s, and it may even be that the extra distaste it elicits offers a smidgen of racism. Like the impetus for America’s earliest cannonades in its war on drugs—the fact that cannabis was linked to Mexicans and cocaine to blacks was justification enough to condemn the products—the word may be double-damned by association.
It might be suggested that compared with those for copulation—some 1,750 alternatives—or for the male and female genitals—around 1,400 apiece—motherfucker scores low for euphemisms. What, after all are all those synonyms, those gropings for trout in a peculiar river, those holy pokers, and aphrodisiacal tennis courts but ways of sidestepping fuck, prick, and cunt? Yet they are sidesteps and, deprived of context, might not immediately reveal themselves. Motherfucker’s alternatives are less coy. Barely, I would suggest, alternatives at all. That, of course, could be the point.
I doubt that the 65 that follow are a complete roster. The terror of certain strings of vowels and consonants that still stalks much of our mass media will ensure that. But they are what I have found to date. I look forward to additions.
Also on Slate: When Did It Become Badass to Be a “Motherf**ker?