3

The phrase "fruitful language" came up in an answer to the scifi.stackexchange.com question "Was Rian Johnson considered for Episode IX?"

I was not familar with it, nor was another commenter. But the author of the answer left a comment mentioning "it's a common thing rugby commentators say, as someone who is not opposed to the language, yet obliged to apologise as part of their network contract."

I was able to find a few other examples online, confirming that this is not just one person's mishearing or something like that:

  • Suffice to say some fruitful language came out my mouth after that!!!

    (matt-man, Sunday 2nd November 2014; PistonHeads » Gassing Station » TVR » Wedges : "Oh B******s!!")

  • You could tell from the start that Mark is clearly anti Conservatives and used some very fruitful language towards them, to say the least.

    ("Live Review: Mark Thomas at Eastleigh’s The Point", By Kieran James, November 12, 2017)

But I could not find a relevant meaning of "fruitful" listed in any dictionary that I checked.

How did "fruitful language" come to have this meaning for some speakers? (Is it related to the use of the word "ripe" to mean "stinking"?) Also, what is the earliest example that can be found of this expression being used?

  • I think it just means creative, and by implication creatively foul. There's an easy bridge from fruitful to productive / producing a lot (as in cornucopia) to creative. But interesting question, good research, solid presentation. +1. – Dan Bron Dec 21 '17 at 23:48
  • 1
    In the UK foul language is sometimes called "fruity", this expression is not as common as it used to be but would still be recognised. However I've never heard "fruitful language", is it an American idiom? – BoldBen Dec 22 '17 at 20:20
  • @BoldBen: Not a common one, I think. I'm an American and I hadn't heard it. Thanks for the info about the expression "fruity language"; I think it's actually significant enough to make a good answer post! – sumelic Dec 22 '17 at 20:23
2

I was not able to find very many uses of the phrase in this sense. The earliest use that I could find in newspaper archives is from 1995. Whether it was a one-off figurative use by the author, columnist and former member of Canadian Parliament Paul St. Pierre, or a slang phrase he adopted into his writing is unclear, although it is worth noting that a reader would understand exactly what he meant either way.

This column offers no solution to the missing sock problem. There is no solution. There is only hopping about on one foot and using fruitful language in the bedroom.

There appears to be no recognition of this sense of fruitful by dictionaries, curated or otherwise. It does not appear in Green's Dictionary of Slang, Urban Dictionary, The Online Slang Dictionary, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, or The Oxford English Dictionary.

I was unable to find any connection with rugby or any other indication of the phrase's origin, if it is indeed idiomatic and not independent figurative wordplay by the authors. The context presented in the question suggests that it is idiomatic in some circles.

Though Google Ngram shows hits for the phrase, examining them in detail suggests that most appearances of "fruitful language" are not euphemisms for "foul language."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.