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American Speech 77.4 (2002) 44-45
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An Accidental Form
In the film Jawbreaker (1998), written and directed by Darren Stein, the character Courtney Shane, played by Rose McGowan, several times uses the phrase peachy fucking keen, as in "Remember, everything is peachy keen—peachy fucking keen." Courtney's characteristic interposing adheres to time-honored rules: most important, fucking here is semantically empty, merely an "emotional stress amplifier," as James B. McMillan (1980) put it in his classic study of infixing and interposing in English.
When McMillan published his article, his description of infixing and interposing was accurate, but I have shown subsequently (Adams 1999, 2001) that recent American speech occasionally admits meaningful inserts in infixes and interposings. On 3 June 2002, the USA television network aired Jawbreaker and, unwilling to preserve the original script's profanity, overdubbed Courtney's phrase as peachy fuzzy keen, transforming a conventional interposing into one with a meaningful insert.
Undoubtedly, the motive behind the replacement of fuzzy for fucking was primarily phonetic: in order to supply a plausible alternative to fucking, the facially obvious initial fricative would need to be reproduced; but the mouth's position for /k/ is nearly indistinguishable from that for /z/, and the ultimate nasal is easily lost, so fuzzy would adequately mask McGowan's original fucking in all but a vestigial sneer. Producers and engineers at the USA Network chose to overdub one of very few words phonetically close to the script's apparently unacceptable form.
Fungi, funky, and funny are also phonetically satisfactory alternatives (see The American Heritage Dictionary 2000), but here those responsible for the replacement encountered an unusual problem: all of these are so obviously meaningful that they cannot replace fucking as an emotive stress amplifier and also cannot collocate with peachy keen without producing, for various reasons, risible forms (peachy fungi keen, peachy funky keen, or peachy funny keen). In other words, they were backed into finding a phonetically credible meaningful form, and fuzzy was the only possibility.
Peachy fuzzy keen is a particularly interesting form, given the recent genesis of meaningful inserts. Examples in my earlier articles on this subject—absoschmuckinglutely (1999), US-fucking A-Today, and Marcia fucking [End Page 44] Brady (2001)—all depend on context for their meaningfulness; but fuzzy is meaningful in peachy fuzzy keen because peach skin is fuzzy, so the meaning depends not on a broader context, but on the semantic relationship between insert and matrix. The form may also reflect some residual connection between peachy-keen 'excellent, wonderful' and warm fuzzy 'pleasant feelings', though the relationship is too vague to constitute a blend (see the Dictionary of American Slang 1995, sv peachy and warm fuzzy in sense 2).
Whether one views peachy fuzzy keen as an accidental or a necessary form, it is an interposing with a meaningful insert and supports my corollary to McMillan's Rule. It reminds us that television is worth watching, as it generates significant linguistic forms, not always in spite of, but sometimes because of, the medium and its constraints.
Adams, Michael. 1999. "Another Effing Euphemism." American Speech 74: 110-12.
———. 2001. "Infixing and Interposing in English: A New Direction." American Speech 76: 327-31.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 2000. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Dictionary of American Slang. 1995. Ed. Robert L. Chapman, with Barbara Ann Kipfer. 3d ed. New York: HarperCollins.
Jawbreaker. 1998. Directed and written by Darren Stein. Hollywood, Calif.: Columbia TriStar.
McMillan, James B. 1980. "Infixing and Interposing in English." American Speech 55: 163-83.