Sometimes Linguists Use Swearwords

Linguists don’t just use cuss words when the computer dies, but also as sources of linguistic evidence (especially for sound patterns).
For instance Arnold Zwicky notes that this cartoon of gag gifts of for Tony Blair crucially relies on puns that only work if you drop the final /r/ (Hint: Tony got a “fur cuff” from the new PM). Oh…now I get it!
Hundreds of years from now, linguists will use this vulgar pun as evidence of final /r/ deletion in British English. They already do it with Shakespeare where hour still rhymed with whore – look the vowel shift was still in progress!
American English also has its share of swear word phonology. For instance, I came up with a “clean” example of how African American English mo’ [mo:] (more) does not quite rhyme with mow [məw] even though both have lost the /r/.
Can you guess what the original example I noticed was? Yes – it was based on the famous Eddie Murphy skit explaining “how to be a Ho” where ho = [həw], but not [ho:] It took my a while to determine which career path he meant since it did not rhyme with the original. Basically, it wasn’t until Murphy said you could work “without even leaving the comfort of your own bedroom” that I determined what a ho was.
I’m not going to lie to you – it was a little embarrassing to explain this important phonological distinction in public the first time I noticed.
P.S. I was able to confirm that Murphy pronounced ho as [həw] because I checked on an online video. The internet CAN be an effective research tool.

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