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The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television

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Why are some words rude and others aren't? Why can launching into expletives be so shocking - and sometimes so amusing? In this hilarious extract from his bestselling "The Stuff of Thought" Steven Pinker takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of profanities, to show us why we swear, how taboos change and how we use obscenities in different ways. Why do so many Why are some words rude and others aren't? Why can launching into expletives be so shocking - and sometimes so amusing? In this hilarious extract from his bestselling "The Stuff of Thought" Steven Pinker takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of profanities, to show us why we swear, how taboos change and how we use obscenities in different ways. Why do so many swear words involve sex, bodily functions and religion? What are the biological roots of swearing? Why would a democracy deter the use of words for two activities - sex and excretion - that harm no one and are inescapable parts of the human condition?Taboo language enters into a startling array of human concerns from capital crimes in the Bible to the future of electronic media. You'll discover that in Quebecois French the expression 'Tabernacle' is outrageous, that 'scumbag' has a very unsavoury origin and that in a certain Aboriginal language every word is filthy when spoken in front of your mother-in-law. Covering everything from free speech to Tourette's, from pottymouthed celebrities to poetry, this book reveals what swearing tells us about how our minds work. (It's also a bloody good read).


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Why are some words rude and others aren't? Why can launching into expletives be so shocking - and sometimes so amusing? In this hilarious extract from his bestselling "The Stuff of Thought" Steven Pinker takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of profanities, to show us why we swear, how taboos change and how we use obscenities in different ways. Why do so many Why are some words rude and others aren't? Why can launching into expletives be so shocking - and sometimes so amusing? In this hilarious extract from his bestselling "The Stuff of Thought" Steven Pinker takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of profanities, to show us why we swear, how taboos change and how we use obscenities in different ways. Why do so many swear words involve sex, bodily functions and religion? What are the biological roots of swearing? Why would a democracy deter the use of words for two activities - sex and excretion - that harm no one and are inescapable parts of the human condition?Taboo language enters into a startling array of human concerns from capital crimes in the Bible to the future of electronic media. You'll discover that in Quebecois French the expression 'Tabernacle' is outrageous, that 'scumbag' has a very unsavoury origin and that in a certain Aboriginal language every word is filthy when spoken in front of your mother-in-law. Covering everything from free speech to Tourette's, from pottymouthed celebrities to poetry, this book reveals what swearing tells us about how our minds work. (It's also a bloody good read).

30 review for The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    An interesting foray into the habit of human beings to swear, including the analysis of the grammatical elements of "taboo" language. Too short for my liking, as I could spend days reading just about this stuff, it provides enough information to feel satiated - and amused - at how the "offensive" part of our language works.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Named after a famed monologue by comedian George Carlin, this short 2008 work by Steven Pinker delves into the linguistic basis and evolution of swearing. It turns out that swearing seems to be controlled by the basal ganglia, which means that, like music, it often lives on even in states of aphasia beyond basic language and sentence construction. That means it's hardwired, and it relates to religion, cleanliness and sex, evolving towards the latter as the former ceased to have the same pull it Named after a famed monologue by comedian George Carlin, this short 2008 work by Steven Pinker delves into the linguistic basis and evolution of swearing. It turns out that swearing seems to be controlled by the basal ganglia, which means that, like music, it often lives on even in states of aphasia beyond basic language and sentence construction. That means it's hardwired, and it relates to religion, cleanliness and sex, evolving towards the latter as the former ceased to have the same pull it had in the past. Why do we do it? Well, it turns there are a number of very good reasons for creating oaths and taboos in our social/professional development and the Church and its paraphernalia was right there, on hand to support us in the past. Now we have to use the law quite often, or the law plus oath, to create the sense of solemnity. Pinker is always erudite and readable, and here picks just the right size of book to whet the intellectual appetite, so to speak. The use of swearing, its power in circumstances and lack of power in others, is discussed here, leaving us with the sense that while we are right not to fall back into the overly restrictive codes that stifled expression, we also need to have some sense of what purposes we have subverted in the meantime by being unable to use the same strictures on the imprecations that have been confined to our basal ganglia. One point he makes is that in the past religion provided the gravity that, say, swearing on the life of one's child might replicate now. There was a code in place that one would not break easily, just in case there really was an afterlife whose pitch we could be queering with some petty selfishness... Meanwhile the interjections that we all know and love came from potentially dangerous health-related situations. A pile of shit was a possible source of plague, after all. Sexual acts carried, and continue to carry, more risks than we might be really considering in the heat of the moment, whether physical, psychological or merely philosophical. Swearing is also a manner of creating camaraderie or shared tone, such as in a mining camp or military units. In linguistic terms, it is amazing how much you can tell about a person from their choices of words and their deployment of swear words. Indeed someone using a refined tone with a single swear word draws the appropriate attention to whatever is being highlighted, while someone who swears with every second word numbs their audience and loses trust. To avoid swear words altogether in a swearing environment is like a musician joining a jazz band and trying to play without syncopation. It just won't sound right. Then again, swear words in a mouth that doesn't generally use them is also something exceedingly strange-sounding. These are some solid reasons for all of this, and Pinker sketches out the issue with rigour and a touch of humour. And brevity.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meikoyim

    Easy introduction into neurolinguistic and psycholinguistic studies, written in an approachable tone turning it much less academic than it seems to be. Humorous and while there are some technicalities that are a bit trying, the overall content is very easy to understand.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    A fabulously fun little book. Beautifully argued, informative, and (as always when it's Pinker) bloody hilarious. Plus, with so few pages, you have absolutely no excuse not to read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Frank Hestvik

    Short and worth the read. Had various interesting curiosities about the grammar, history, use, and the different contexts of swearing. What I liked best was the rudimentary notes from neuroscience, i.e. the amygdala connection: why someone today will never be in a position to feel dated plays and novels as they reacted to in their day, or, similarly, why there is such a difference for the reader of nigger and the n-word (or even n*gger), even if we all know the word to which the latter phrase ref Short and worth the read. Had various interesting curiosities about the grammar, history, use, and the different contexts of swearing. What I liked best was the rudimentary notes from neuroscience, i.e. the amygdala connection: why someone today will never be in a position to feel dated plays and novels as they reacted to in their day, or, similarly, why there is such a difference for the reader of nigger and the n-word (or even n*gger), even if we all know the word to which the latter phrase refers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeroen

    Although part of the book "The Stuff of Thought", which I'm currently reading, I loved reading this book (as it was a gift from a colleague)... It truly nails the topic of (the fun in) swearing and profanity, and tells us why we do it and feel the way we do about it... Truly wonderful book (and chapter in the even more wonderful 'The Stuff of Thought')

  7. 4 out of 5

    Salty Swift

    I’m nearly certain most of you already know what the banned words on TV are. Nicely presented analysis of how we got from darn to fuck in a couple of generations...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kir

    3.5 🌟 Some sections were more interesting than others for me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daisy H

    Lots of lists but amusing and interesting nonetheless. A nice quick read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    I love Steve Pinker's writing, and this book was no exception - very interesting and entertaining at the same time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Coenraad

    A fascinating survey of swearing in English: where it comes from, what it means and doesn't mean, why we use it and why we should or should not. Well worth the read. Pinker verduidelik heel netjies hoe vloektaal in Engels werk: waar dit vandaan kom, wat dit beteken, hoe dit gebruik word en hoekom dit goed én sleg is. Vir die Afrikaanse leser klink heelwat aspekte baie bekend: 'n verwerking om vloektaal in Afrikaans te beskryf, klink na 'n bak plan (lees reg!).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Svetlana

    All you wanted to know about bad, bad words and why we can't keep our tongues away from them. Smart, hilarious and educational (I've learnt cock got itself two words in Japanese - chin chin. I think I got myself a favourite toast there;))

  13. 5 out of 5

    Margie

    Looks like a good follow-up to Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing Looks like a good follow-up to Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mari

    Intressant, vissa kapitel mer än andra.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deyara

    Really interesting, and nice style - lots of information but still feels interesting. Funny and insightful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Filip

    Short but insightful psycholinguistic analysis about why we swear.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Holmes

    Excellent analysis of swearing from an academic point of view. A fxxking good book! Makes me want to read the whole bloody The Stuff of Thought!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dedwarmo

    On 2014-02-16 it was not available for Kindle.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rakhsha Soltani

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gemma

  21. 4 out of 5

    Narendaran

  22. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  23. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  24. 4 out of 5

    zsuzsana1572

  25. 4 out of 5

    MikeS

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jane

  28. 4 out of 5

    Becca Rees

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adam Christian

  30. 5 out of 5

    Javier

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