Fucking Brilliant

Stephen Pinker offers a very interesting article on “Why We Curse” at The New Republic. Over the course of a few pages, it veers into discussions of policy, religious speech, male vs. female attitudes toward sex, and, my personal favorite, a neuropsychological explanation for why swears aggravate our ears when their synonyms and homonyms do not. This is something I have long wondered about, a question well encapsulated by these sentences:

Many people feel that profanity is self-evidently corrupting, especially to the young. This claim is made despite the fact that everyone is familiar with the words, including most children, and that no one has ever spelled out how the mere hearing of a word could corrupt one’s morals.

Progressive writers have pointed to this gap to argue that linguistic taboos are absurd. A true moralist, they say, should hold that violence and inequality are “obscene,” not sex and excretion. And yet, since the 1970s, many progressives have imposed linguistic taboos of their own, such as the stigma surrounding the N-word and casual allusions to sexual desire or sexual attractiveness. So even people who revile the usual bluenoses can become gravely offended by their own conception of bad language. The question is, why?

Read on for a pretty good explanation. Be warned, however, that learning the hidden power of curses may involve confronting them, not just their first letters.

[…] it comes from, and why it’s considered so objectionable (a piece that, as it turns out, Jason linked to almost a month ago. […]