LINGUIST List 30.4729

Tue Dec 17 2019

All: Reinhold Aman (1936-2019)

Editor for this issue: Everett Green <>

Date: 17-Dec-2019
From: Tristan Miller <>
Subject: Reinhold Aman (1936-2019)
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Reinhold Aman, the linguist known as ''the world's foremost authority on swearing'', died on March 2, 2019 at the age of 82. Aman was the founder and president of Maledicta: The International Research Center for the Study of Verbal Aggression, and served as the full-time editor of its eponymous journal. For nearly three decades, Maledicta published collections and studies of some of the most vile and vulgar, but oftentimes also the most creative, uses of human language. Aman himself penned many of the journal's articles, as well as a number of standalone books on wordplay and slang.

Aman was born on April 8, 1936 in Bavaria but emigrated to North America in 1957, eventually settling in Wisconsin. He obtained a teaching degree in German from the University of Wisconsin in 1965 and a doctorate in medieval German literature from the University of Texas in 1968. He joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin as an Assistant Professor of German, but left academia in 1974 when he was denied tenure, ostensibly (at least according to Aman) because his research into verbal aggression was considered ''undignified''. Aman immediately founded his own quasi-scholarly society and publishing house, which for over thirty years published studies and glossaries of all a manner of abusive and offensive language. Its flagship and often-anthologized publication was the aforementioned Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression (ISSN 0363-3659). The journal sparked considerable controversy in academia: it was vociferously attacked by linguists such as Randolph Quirk and Eric Hamp, but was praised by reviewers in more marginalized fields of research, including sexology and humour studies.

Apart from Maledicta, Aman was also known for producing the Bayrisch-österreichisches Schimpfwörterbuch, a 1974 dictionary of Austro-Bavarian insults, and for reprinting some rare and important works: Allen Walker Read's Lexical Evidence from Folk Epigraphy, Abraham Roback's Dictionary of International Slurs, and Mark Twain's The Mammoth Cod.

Aman was not only a scholar but also an avid practitioner of abusive language, a trait that landed him in trouble on more than one occasion. In 1992 he was convicted of mailing threatening communications to his ex-wife and the judge who oversaw their divorce trial, and was sentenced to three years in federal prison. Aman maintained his innocence throughout his trial and incarceration, insisting that the letters were hyperbolic and harmless pranks. After his release, he became a fixture on online discussion forums relating to language and linguistics. While many of his contributions were genuinely helpful and insightful, he gained notoriety for the harsh language he employed against those who crossed him. By contrast, those who met Aman in person or who corresponded with him privately found him to be jovial, grandfatherly, and the epitome of politeness. He had a deep love for his daughter, Susan, and for the last 19 years of his life was a committed volunteer at Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County, a cat rescue charity.

Further details on Reinhold Aman's life and works can be found in the following recently published obituaries:

Jesse Sheidlower. Lives in Language: Reinhold Aman (1936-2019). Babel: The Language Magazine, No. 29, November 2019, pp. 24-25. ISSN 2051-7297.

Tristan Miller. Reinhold Aman, 1936–2019. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 32(1), February 2020. ISSN 0933-1719. DOI: 10.1515/humor-2019-0085.

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

Page Updated: 17-Dec-2019