Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Foul Language

Ruth Wajnryb, Author . Free Press $18 (290p) ISBN 978-0-7432-7434-0

If you find obscenity in print shocking, skip this review and stay away from Wajnryb's very objective—and entertaining—study of the etymology of taboo expressions. Australian linguist Wajnryb, a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, doesn't shy away from listing the most offensive English terms. Her wit and informal, anecdotal style are supported by a prodigious amount of research. According to Wajnryb, "cunt" is easily the most insulting word in English—whether applied to a man or a woman. The origins of "fuck" are shrouded in mystery (contrary to common belief, it is not Anglo-Saxon); since it's the most widely used curse word and can be employed as a noun, verb or adjective, the author says, it has recently lost some of its impact. Wajnryb points out that men curse, or are reputed to curse, more than women, and frequently designate female organs in a hostile manner intended to humiliate women. Wajnryb also examines blasphemy, utterances that derive their power from degrading religion. Especially interesting is the author's exploration of cross-cultural cursing. Even in Japan, where there are allegedly no taboo words, a closer examination uncovers a complex tongue in which insults are hidden in language that serves to enforce social rank. (July 13)

Reviewed on: 05/16/2005
Release date: 07/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-7432-8757-9
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7432-7526-2
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