Fucking ambiguity

I’ve been inventorying cartoons on my blog and on Language Log — a daunting project; there are so many — and am pulling up links from comments (like the one I just posted about). Here’s an xkcd from a comment by Boris on Victor Mair’s LLog posting “Not just any sale, it’s a #$&@^’ sale” (here):

The joke turns on the ambiguity of fucking, between the expressive adjective fucking ’(god)damn’ vs. the literal noun fucking ‘having sexual intercourse with’ (compare the adverb-verb ambiguity in fucking goofy, here).

In this case the two interpretations differ prosodically: on the expressive reading, the noun jacket has primary accent (the default for Adj + N combinations), while on the literal reading (‘jacket for fucking (in)’), the noun fucking has primary accent (the default for N + N compounds).

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