Wednesday, June 27, 2007

iPhone gives nasty shock

The topography of swearing (bad language)

I was reading the iPhone review from Newsweek by the veteran journalist Steven Levy. He wrote:

It took me a couple of days to get used to hitting the right keys using a single finger. Maybe I’m a spaz, but I’m only beginning to get the hang of two-thumb typing.
and I was stopped in my tracks. In UK English spaz is an offensive insult meaning spastic, i.e. someone with cerebral palsy. In US English it is a slightly rude word for a clumsy person. Interestingly the first usage quoted by the OED is in Pauline Kael's 1965 I Lost It at the Movies:
The term that American teen-agers now use as the opposite of ‘tough’ is ‘spaz’. A spaz is a person who is courteous to teachers, plans for a career.. and believes in official values. A spaz is something like what adults still call a square.
This predates the first (written) British use, in Martin Amis's Dead Babies:
I know how long, you little spaz.
So it's clear that the American usage is pretty established. Even so I think Newsweek's subeditors should have caught this and removed it.

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