What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves

Benjamin K. Bergen. Basic, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-06091-7
In a lively study with the potential to offend just about anyone, Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, examines all aspects of profanity: how it evolved, how we use it, why we use it, and why exactly some words and phrases are considered vulgar or taboo. By breaking down swearing into four categories—praying, fornicating, excreting, and slurring—Bergen is able to look at how these words evoke certain primal responses and how they relate to the most basic human needs and instincts. “Profanity has a lot to teach us about language—not only how it’s realized in the brain and how it changes over time but what happens when children learn it, how it hooks into our emotions, and why it occasionally trips us up,” he explains. From a linguistic and sociological viewpoint, the book is illuminating, even playful, as he uses charts and scientific studies to fully explore the material. His frequent use of vulgarity, contrasted against the seriousness of the topic, further shows how words have power, and how we enjoy a complicated relationship with them. The result is an entertaining, if sometimes overly technical, look at an essential component of language and society. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/20/2016
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-465-09648-0
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