Josh Lambert on Benjamin K. Bergen on Cursing
In an NYT article, "Why Do We Love to Curse So Much?" (September 26, 2016), Josh Lambert turns to Benjamin K. Bergen's recently published book on linguistics, What The F (What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves), to address that question:
Bergen . . . insists that it's totally legitimate to study profanity because of what it can teach us, in general, about language and the brain.That last part is an interesting fact, and it leads me to wonder if swearing is related to the automatic "signals" of sounds uttered by animals to warn of danger. Like "Sh*t!" meaning "Don't step here!" Probably not.
Take aphasias and coprolalia. When brain injuries or tumors render people speechless, they sometimes still swear, while Tourette's syndrome can cause uncontrollable shouting of offensive slurs and obscenities. For comedy writers, that's all catnip, but for Bergen, these phenomena reveal where language originates: When you pay attention to the affected brains, you learn that there's a specific place where automatic, stubbed-toe expletives originate, distinct from the pathway, in the left hemisphere, that generates the rest of our talk.
But is the question "Why Do We Love to Curse So Much?" or "Why Do We So Much Love to Curse?"