Bastards & buggers- using corpus data
- Published: Tuesday, 02 September 2014 14:55
“Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard” [allegedly uttered by Australian cricket captain Bill Woodfull during the Bodyline series of 1932-33 in response to the English captain Douglas Jardine’s complaint that one of the Australian players had called him a bastard]
A little while back my colleague Simon Musgrave had the idea to examine the Australian National Corpus (or AusNC) for evidence of the linguistic behaviour of two key expressions in the Australian English vernacular: bastard and bugger. So while I dug up the dirt on the history of the two terms, he investigated their appearances in various collections contained in AusNC (and if you haven’t already, do have a look at these collections at https://www.ausnc.org.au). What Simon uncovered was a wonderful illustration of what corpus data can do, so I thought I’d share the findings with you here.
Both bastard and bugger started life as extremely potent terms of abuse, but semantic bleaching, shifting taboos and general societal changes have left them considerably weaker in sense and in wounding capacity. Bugger is now a mild expression to insult or let off steam, and routinely shows up in the public arena in expressions of frustration, surprise or disbelief (Bugger me! I’ll be buggered!), of mateship and endearment (you lucky bugger), and a range of other light-hearted phrases (playing silly buggers). Bastard alsomakes regular public appearances, sometimes to express anger or frustration at something or someone (sneaky conniving bastard), though under different circumstances it can also signal positive attitudes, such as compassion (poor bastard) or affection (he’s a good bastard).