September 22, 2016

Credit: Bob B. Brown / Flickr Creative Commons.

You stub your toe. Someone cuts you off in traffic. That jerk Chad gets a promotion instead of you. Your mind probably goes to a few… profane words in your vocabulary. But… why are there “forbidden” words? Why are some words not acceptable to say in polite company? And what do those words say about us? Benjamin Bergen, author of What The F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, explains.

Three Takeaways

  • Swearing can help you withstand pain. In a study, people who were allowed to swear were able to hold their hand in a bucket of ice water for much longer than those who weren’t allowed to swear.
  • Swearing isn’t a thing in Japan. Want to call someone a bad word in Japanese? That’s not really possible. Swearing varies a lot throughout cultures, though most languages - unlike Japanese - do have some taboo words.
  • Profanity evolves over time. For today’s young adults, four letter words have less of an impact than they have had on previous generations. But words that demean racial or sexual differences are becoming increasingly unacceptable.

More Reading

innovation hub, Swearing, Benjamin Bergen, Kara Miller, WGBH

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