Here’s Vaughan on a neat grammatical shortcut:
Whilst drinking with a psycholinguist (say that after a few pints) I was taught a useful way of quickly working out the stressed syllable in any English word – something which is apparently called the ‘fuck test’.
Simply insert the word ‘fucking’ into the word, as if you were using the swear word for emphasis, and the syllable that follows the ‘fucking’ is the stressed syllable.
For example, absolutely -> abso-fucking-lutely. The stressed syllable is the third: i.e. absolutely. It works for every multi-syllable word I’ve found so far.
On a related note, Steven Pinker aims for an explicit warning label in the latest TNR. I actually thought his chapter on cursing was one of the less illuminating chapters in The Stuff of Thought, which is, overall, a very illuminating book. Pinker spends fifty pages parsing the semantics of cursing, only to conclude that curse words are “connected to negative emotion”. You don’t say.