Nearly everyone swears-whether it's over a few too many drinks, in reaction to a stubbed toe, or in flagrante delicto. Read more...
Nearly everyone swears-whether it's over a few too many drinks, in reaction to a stubbed toe, or in flagrante delicto. And yet, we sit idly by as words are banned from television and censored in books. We insist that people excise profanity from their vocabularies and we punish children for yelling the very same dirty words that we'll mutter in relief seconds after they fall asleep. Swearing, it seems, is an intimate part of us that we have decided to selectively deny.
That's a damn shame. Swearing is useful. It can be funny, cathartic, or emotionally arousing. As linguist and cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen shows us, it also opens a new window onto how our brains process language and why languages vary around the world and over time.
In this groundbreaking yet ebullient romp through the linguistic muck, Bergen answers intriguing questions: How can patients left otherwise speechless after a stroke still shout Goddamn when they get upset? When did a cock grow to be more than merely a rooster? Why is crap vulgar when poo is just childish? Do slurs make you treat people differently? Why is the first word that Samoan children say not mommy but eat shit? And why do we extend a middle finger to flip someone the bird?
Smart as hell and funny as fuck, What the F is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to know how and why we swear.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-06-20
- Reviewer: Staff
In a lively study with the potential to offend just about anyone, Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, examines all aspects of profanity: how it evolved, how we use it, why we use it, and why exactly some words and phrases are considered vulgar or taboo. By breaking down swearing into four categories—praying, fornicating, excreting, and slurring—Bergen is able to look at how these words evoke certain primal responses and how they relate to the most basic human needs and instincts. “Profanity has a lot to teach us about language—not only how it’s realized in the brain and how it changes over time but what happens when children learn it, how it hooks into our emotions, and why it occasionally trips us up,” he explains. From a linguistic and sociological viewpoint, the book is illuminating, even playful, as he uses charts and scientific studies to fully explore the material. His frequent use of vulgarity, contrasted against the seriousness of the topic, further shows how words have power, and how we enjoy a complicated relationship with them. The result is an entertaining, if sometimes overly technical, look at an essential component of language and society. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman. (Sept.)