Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How We Swear

From the Toronto Star, the five ways we swear, according to Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive scientist:
1. Cathartic. Stub a toe, and suddenly the topic of your conversation turns to excretion or copulation.

2. Dysphemistic. A dysphemism is the opposite of a euphemism, a way of rubbing something in the face of listeners, such as telling someone to stop their dog "crapping" [or shitting, in the parlance of our time] on your lawn, rather than "defecating."

3. Reputation. Cursing someone to lower their reputation, either to make them feel bad or to get others to think worse of them.

4. Expletive. Used to fill out speech, such as "bloody fantastic" in British speech; waking up the listener's brain by using a taboo word.

5. Idiomatic. The mildest form, as in "he pissed me off." Using an idiom that has nothing to do with the actual content of the thought but simply spices up the language.
The five main subjects of our expletives, says Pinker, are disease, despised groups, excretion, infirmity, religion, and sex.



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