Beautifully written analysis of a single word in the English language

Beautifully written judicial analysis of language from Justice Jonathan Beach in ASIC v Westpac (No 2) [2018] FCA 751 [references added].

  1. Fifth, let me now say something concerning the vernacular of the traders. And it concerns the use of the “f***”[1] word and its various derivatives. There is little doubt that linguistic Darwinism has favoured the English language. And part of its natural advantage springs not only from its capacity to either create vocabulary or unashamedly appropriate it from elsewhere, but its subsequent diverse and rich deployment. The “f***” word and its use by the traders in the present context is a classic example. It has been used as both a transitive and intransitive verb. It has been used in an active sense and a passive sense. It has been used in the past tense and the future tense. It has been used as an adjective. It has been used as a noun including as a verbal noun. Someone even tried to use it as an adverb. Occasionally it has been deployed not in any context that a formal grammarian would encourage, but simply to reflect an emotional response. Sometimes disappointment or exasperation, sometimes pleasant surprise or even admiration. Sometimes criticism, sometimes positive reinforcement. Even more occasionally, it has been used to indelicately communicate the thought that caution was being thrown to the wind. Clearly, the “f***” word and its derivatives are not terms of art in the finance industry. Nevertheless, their use in otherwise polite conversation appears to have been well understood by the colourful interlocutors.
  2. More generally, the language games used by the participants, albeit not quite as attractive as the philosophical description given by Ludwig Wittgenstein,[2] should be seen for what they are. They are frank discussions. They are designed to communicate information quickly and without the usual social niceties. They proceed on an unstated foundation of concepts and strategies well understood. To state the obvious is to be avoided. Robustness and directness are prized. That is the context in which the participants’ communications must be analysed”.

The Judge goes on to talk about the “catchy nicknames” of the traders all “entertaining stuff in the theatre of trial”, one in focus being the “perfumed steamroller”.


The colon.


[1] ‘Fuck’.

[2] Philosophical Investigations, 2nd ed, 1958.

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