Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore – New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/20/science/20curs.html?ei=5070&en=f5e499026ab42a3f&ex=1127361600&pagewanted=all

Neat Times article about swearing – both as a psychological impulse and (most interesting to me) how swear words develop and fade through the ages. The fun graphic that accompanies the article is too big to post, but I highly recommend it, not least for the fact that the listed “stem siren” is due for a renaissance 😀

Researchers have also examined how words attain the status of forbidden speech and how the evolution of coarse language affects the smoother sheets of civil discourse stacked above it. They have found that what counts as taboo language in a given culture is often a mirror into that culture’s fears and fixations.

“In some cultures, swear words are drawn mainly from sex and bodily functions, whereas in others, they’re drawn mainly from the domain of religion,” Dr. Deutscher said.

In societies where the purity and honor of women is of paramount importance, he said, “it’s not surprising that many swear words are variations on the ‘son of a whore’ theme or refer graphically to the genitalia of the person’s mother or sisters.”

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