Lexicon Valley

Spotting Hidden F-Words in Films

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing.

We’ve looked at swearing in films before, in the obvious sense where it occurs on the audio track. But sometimes films offer visual swears, a few examples of which are presented below. Visual swears may be remarked on or alluded to in the dialog, or they may not; they may be props, used for color and characterization, or they may serve comedic aims, or some combination of the above.

Here’s one that contributes to both contextual humor and characterization: Rooney Mara’s delightful FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK T-shirt in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011):

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Blade II (2002), directed with comic-book gusto by Guillermo del Toro, features a seedy joint called FUCKINGHAM PALACE, described in David Goyer’s script as a “shit-hole porno emporium offering the latest in bagged-for your-pleasure Euro-raunch.” The name appears for only a few frames (hence the blurred figure in the foreground of this DVD freeze-frame), so its FUCK is helpfully lit up lest viewers miss the gag:

Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Finally, and most elaborately, there is Michael Davis’ gleefully offensive, gun-obsessed Shoot ’Em Up (2007). On a rooftop near the end of a chase sequence we see a large and improbably positioned neon sign for FAULK TRUCK & TOOL. This image from behind-the-scenes footage shows it in full:

Courtesy of New Line Cinema

No-nonsense antihero Clive Owen, in a shootout with his nemesis Paul Giamatti and his goons, selectively shoots the sign’s letters to leave FUK U (initially framed to obscure the TOOL):

Courtesy of New Line Cinema

His attendant quip, like Mara’s T-shirt above, gets straight to the point:

Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Giamatti, foiled and frustrated by Owen’s subsequent escape, shoots the L from TOOL in reply:

Courtesy of New Line Cinema

You can watch the scene in full here. It’s NSFW, obviously, and also Owen is carrying a (fake) baby, which might bother some viewers: