It's Recess-time Somewhere

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September 20, 2005

Why We Swear

The NY Times has a lengthy yet illuminating article on why we swear. And since you can't read the op/ed's for free anymore, you might as well read this entire article because it's free.

It refers to a study that shows "that men generally curse more than women, unless said women are in a sorority, and that university provosts swear more than librarians or the staff members of the university day care center."

I was never in a sorority and I'm not around children very much, but I'm a horrible potty mouth. I cuss like a sailor. Well, I am kind of a sailor, so I guess it's ok, right? However, I grew up in household where it was unacceptable to swear, so I did develop the finely tuned skill of being able to turn it on and off when appropriate. (thanks, Mom.)

Just last night, I was recounting an amusing anecdote to a coupla friends who don't swear. It involved a squirrel in my laundry room obliviously nibbling in Bart's vat o' dog food, and me yelling "get out of there, you little fucker," before he scurried out the window with the hole in the screen. After repeating the phrase to my friends, I felt a little guilty. Like maybe I'd insulted them or made them feel uncomfortable.

Then this morning, I was reading a replyed-to email message where I previously wrote the phrase "that's fucked up about 'abc' and 'xyz.' They need to get their shit figured out." But don't you think "Oh, dear me. I'm sorry 'abc' and 'xyz' are having problems. I really hope the can come to some middle ground and work out their differences." lacks imagination and conviction? Well, I do.

I find in lots of situations, my stock goes up when I throw in a few well chosen curse words. I look kind of young and innocent and naive, so when I drop an f-bomb or two, I think it shows that I have moxie. Maybe some wisdom and experience and perhaps even a well-defined opinion on the topic, even if I'm virtually clueless.

It's interesting to read about how forbidden words arise and how seemingly ridiculous it is for the FCC to impose half million dollar fines on folks that might broadcast these naughty, naughty words.

According to this article, most curse words develop from the desire to call upon dieties or to reference a bodily function. (ex. oh god, look at the girth of that poopy)

Yet neither biblical commandment nor the most zealous Victorian censor
can elide from the human mind its hand-wringing over the unruly human
body, its chronic, embarrassing demands and its sad decay. Discomfort
over body functions never sleeps, Dr. Burridge said, and the need for an
ever-fresh selection of euphemisms about dirty subjects has long served
as an impressive engine of linguistic invention.

Interesting stuff. And very well written. Go read it.


  • At September 21, 2005, Blogger John Howard said…

    I like profanity. A lot of times, you can't capture your real emotions without it. I don't understand why anyone would have any aversion to it, as long as they know when it isn't appropriate. They're just words, like any others, and they help to communicate. If they didn't add anything to the language, we wouldn't use them at all.


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