On Invectives in Natural Language: A Panchronic Study of English Synonyms of ‘Skinny’/‘Fatty’

by Agnieszka Grząśko (Author)
©2016 Monographs 224 Pages


The author researches selected synonyms of ‘skinny’ and ‘fatty’ in the history of the English language from the perspective of cognitive linguistics. The method employed in grouping the analytical material has been dictated by the nature of the processes of semantic change. The author subdivided the quantum of the analysed lexical items into the following type-groups: zoosemy (animal metaphor), foodsemy (food metaphor), plantosemy (plant metaphor), metonymy, reification, eponymy, onomatopoeia, rhyming slang and varia. Surveying a collection of English dictionaries the author makes an attempt to determine the status of a given synonym in present-day English.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Typographic Conventions
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Panorama of Verbal Dishonouring in English with Parallel Examples from other Natural Languages
  • 1.0 Introduction
  • 1.1 In Search of the Definition of Insult
  • 1.2 On the Nature of Anti-language and Euphemism
  • 1.3 In Search of an Eclectic Typology of Verbal Dishonouring
  • 1.3.1 Human Being as the Main Target of Foul Language
  • 1.3.2 Nationality as a Target of Insults
  • 1.3.3 Human Body as a Target of Insults
  • 1.3.4 Plants as a Channel for Human-targeted Insults
  • 1.3.5 Inanimate Objects as a Channelling Device for Human-targeted Insults
  • 1.3.6 Various Objects as Media for Insults
  • 1.3.7 Animal World as the Medium of Human-targeted Insults
  • 1.4 Religion and Taboo Speech
  • 1.5 Interim Summary
  • 1.6 Field Theory as a Linguistic Tool for Analysing Meaning and Meaning Shifts
  • 1.6.1 German Roots of Field Analysis
  • 1.6.2 Componential Analysis in European and American Tradition
  • 1.6.3 Interim Summary
  • 1.7 Componential Analysis and Cognitive Approach as the Major Tools for Analysing Historical Alterations of Meaning Content
  • 1.7.1 The Principles of Meaning Atomization
  • 1.7.2 Types and Functions of Components
  • 1.7.3 Operations on Componential Definitions
  • 1.7.4 The Problems of Componential Definition
  • 1.7.5 The Cognitive Approach in Historical Semantics
  • 1.7.6 On Cognitive Domains
  • 1.7.7 The Notion of Activating/Highlighting of Attributive Values
  • 1.7.8 On the Notion of Backgrounding of Attributive Values and the Notion of Centre/Periphery of the Category
  • 1.7.9 Summary
  • Chapter 2: The Study of Diachronic Growth of Historical Synonyms of Skinny in English
  • 2.0 Introduction
  • 2.1 Diachronic Growth of the Lexical Items Related to the Category SKINNY in English
  • 2.2 The Panchronic Synnyms of Skinny
  • 2.3 Female-specific Synonyms of Skinny
  • 2.4 Male-specific Synonyms of Skinny
  • 2.5 Epicene Synonyms of Skinny – Summary
  • Chapter 3: The Study of Diachronic Growth of Historical Synonyms of Fatty in English
  • 3.0 Introduction
  • 3.1 Diachronic Growth of the Lexical Items Related to the Category FATTY in English
  • 3.2 The Panchronic Synonyms of Fatty
  • 3.3 Residue Synonyms of Fatty – Summary
  • Chapter 4: Conclusions
  • 4.0 Introduction
  • 4.1 On the Cultural and Linguistic Nature of the Skinny/Fatty Opposition
  • 4.2 Synonyms of Skinny – Summary
  • 4.3 Synonyms of Fatty – Summary
  • References
  • Index
  • Index of the Analysed Lexical Items

← 8 | 9 →

Typographic Conventions

Italics are employed for:

Names of lexical categories (e.g. scarecrow, Humpty-Dumpty, dumpling)

Single quotation marks are employed for:

Meanings/senses/sense threads/meaning-threads of lexical categories

(e.g. August ‘fool, jerk’, une tete carree ‘a square head’)

Small capitals are employed for:

Names of conceptual macrocategories/categories and semantic fields

Capitals are employed for:

Names of cognitive domains (e.g. FOOD, KINSHIP TERMS, CONTAINERS)

Capitals enclosed in angled brackets are employed for:

Semantic elements/values (e.g. <FEMALE>, <NOBLE>, <GENTLE>)

Capitals enclosed in double slashes are employed for:

Conceptual metaphors and mappings (e.g. //A FAT PERSON IS A FAT ANIMAL//, //A SKINNY PERSON IS TALL//) ← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 →

List of Abbreviations


AHDIThe American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
BBBRThe Big Book of Being Rude. 7000 Slang Insults
BDPFBrewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
CEDMEA Concise Etymological Dictionary of Modern English
CNPDSUEThe Concise New Partridge of Slang and Unconventional English
DAIPVDictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs
DASCENTC’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions
DCSDictionary of Contemporary Slang
DDThe Diner’s Dictionary. Food and Drink from A to Z
DOEThe Dictionary of Eponyms. Names that Became Words
DVTDictionary of Vulgar Tongue
DWODictionary of Word Origins
EDEAn Etymological Dictionary of the English Language
EDMEAn Etymological Dictionary of Modern English
LLCELongman Lexicon of Contemporary English
MEDMacmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners
OALDOxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
ODEEThe Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology
ODSOxford Dictionary of Slang
ODWHThe Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories
OEDThe Oxford English Dictionary
RDMASUEThe Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English
RHHDASRandom House Historical Dictionary of American Slang
SADAMSpeaking of Animals. A Dictionary of Animal Metaphors
SAESlang and Euphemism
SEDMEOrigins. A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English
TMEDThe Macquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary
TTEMThesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors
UDFSSDUrban Dictionary. Fularious Street Slang Defined ← 11 | 12 →
USFSSDUrban Dictionary – Fularious Street Slang Defined
WMHWord Mysteries and Histories
WOWord Origins. The Secret Histories of English Words from A to Z
WPOThe Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins

Other Abbreviations

← 14 | 15 →


In spite of the fact that one fails to encounter any prehistoric written records of insulting, we can hazard a guess that it is almost as old as human speech. The first humans probably swore when they were not able to find food, although there were few words to express their discontentment. In the course of time, along with the development of language, the most serious expletives started to be connected with religion. Then, dirty words were employed with reference to sex acts and parts of the body. Nowadays, the so-called ‘taboo words’ are directed against people who are different; people of different gender, sexuality, race or religion (see Leigh and Lepine 2005: 8–9).

In this work we target a very narrow fraction of the whole panorama of human qualities that may be subject to insulting. The overriding aim of this book is to elaborate on verbal violence which focuses on our physique. To be more precise, our goal is to carry out a diachronic semantic analysis of over fifty nouns that have in the history of English been used in the sense ‘a skinny person’ and ‘a fat person’. It is fitting to add that the effects of human nutritional habits may have always been subject to mockery, ridicule and insulting; although the very fact of being either fat or skinny is not to be treated as a universally conceived quality. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that in a few years’ time some of the lexical items under scrutiny may lose their power and become less offensive. Our enquiry will cover relevant etymological considerations, the course of semantic alterations and phraseological and paremiological productivity of the English nouns subject to our analysis. Although this work can hardly be qualified as contrastive we shall not refrain from formulating cross-linguistic parallels wherever we find suitable language data in other languages.

As adequately phrased 150 years ago by Jackson (1866/1958: 123) – Indeed, the study of swearing, in spite of the nastiness of this habit, is one of the very greatest interest and importance, in our attempts to trace the graduations of motion, thought, and language. Nowadays, swearing is an intrinsic part of the linguistic world and the subject of foul language and insulting has been dealt with recently both in world linguistic literature and in Poland too. As to the former, one may mention Jay (2000), Leigh and Lepine (2005), Wajnryb (2005), McEnery (2006) or Aman (1996). In Polish linguistics the recent studies of Duda (2014) and Kudła (2011) deserve a mention. ← 15 | 16 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (December)
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 224 pp., 15 tables

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Grząśko (Author)

Agnieszka Grząśko graduated from the University of Rzeszów (Polish and English Studies) and the Jagiellonian University, Poland. She received her PhD degree in linguistics from the University of Rzeszów. Her academic interests include diachronic linguistics, cognitive semantics and the language of flirtation.


Title: On Invectives in Natural Language: A Panchronic Study of English Synonyms of ‘Skinny’/‘Fatty’
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226 pages