What’s So Special About Dirty Words

What’s in a dirty word? What exactly is a dirty word? What effect do these words have on our brain, and why are we drawn to them? Cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen tackles the topic of profanity in his new book, What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Our Selves. It turns out that profanity inhabits a special place in our minds, somewhere separate from chambers that house most normal language. These are unique phrases that carry a unique weight, and while most of the book serves primarily as a crash course in linguistics, a lot of the text takes aim at damaging censorship regulations.

Bergen suggests that repression of profanity is counter intuitive, citing the many expressive benefits of bad words in both classic and contemporary works of art. Bergen does, however, account for the measurably negative influence of slurs targeting race, gender, and sexuality. These hateful words, Bergen fears, are becoming the focal point of the conversation behind profanity as they are by far the most hurtful and offensive. When it comes to the good old dirty words, however, there is a lot of interesting insight to be had when we look at our parallel need to use and censor the occasional F-bomb.



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