Comments & Discussion

Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (EST) and can only accept comments written in English.

There are 14 comments on The Good Side of Bad Words

  1. Caldwell-Harris notes that people are more comfortable swearing in another language. An example of a comfortable word in French is “merde,” which I learned to my surprise, decades after first seeing it in novels, is the French term for shit. I had assumed it was like saying “Murder!” It sounded harmless enough, but when I subsequently asked a French woman in our duplicate bridge group if “merde” meant “shit,” she flinched noticeably, and it wasn’t because I had used the word shit.

    There are things that happen in our lives that can have no other response, or as my sweetheart in the 70s put it, “It’s one of those things you say shit to.”

    When I recently dropped a large glass jar of dill pickles on my kitchen floor, out came that indispensable word. I’m still picking up the small remaining shards that exploded as far as my carpeted hall. However, another bridge friend, Lucille, said she would never use such an ugly word, no matter what happened in her kitchen. I asked her how she felt about “merde,” and she didn’t flinch.

  2. At 50 yrs. old, I unfortunately had to move back “home” with mom and have had to refrain from profanity out of respect. Funny thing, I really don’t miss it and feel no different. In fact, when I now hear my younger sister swear, it sort of makes me a bit squeamish! I guess I feel that if something really pisses you off or hurts you bad, go ahead and swear, but many people are just plain potty mouths and that’s what I just can’t see.

  3. I remember when our 11th grade english teacher described the agricultural origins of the F-word to the class. She used it half a dozen times in its original context but we all still winced, grimaced and smirked at this authority figure saying such a meeping word.

  4. Swearing, that is. If someone says a word they feel uncomfortable with, then it sounds bad. If their delivery is natural and without self-consciousness, however, I’m okay with it. Personally, I swear with relish unless I know it’s going to bother someone. But it’s funny, growing up we weren’t allowed to say “pee, poop, piss, butt, gut, crap or lie.” And to this day, those words bother me and I never use them.

    On a note about swearing in your nonnative tongue: I had a roommate from Italy who thought nothing about saying “shit” very heartily, but she was under the impression that if you call someone a jerk, you were saying something really, really bad! I finally set her straight on that, and we had a good laugh.

  5. Thanks to the commenters for sharing your interesting experiences of swearing.
    Writer "Who says" asks "why is fuck ten times more likely to get you in trouble than shit or hell"? In his book The Stuff of Thought, Harvard psycholinguist Steven Pinker answers this and myriad other questions about swearing. One of his points is that in prior, more religious eras, the most powerful swear words were related to religion. So "Go to hell" was wishing on someone a very feared experience. Swearing was "cursing" using language as a performative act that would have a type of magical action. As "hell" and "damnation" lost their emotional force due to social change over the 21st century, sexually-related taboo words came to be experience as more forceful.
    Pinker notes that "Damn you" actually makes grammatical and semantic sense, while "Fuck you" does not. He uses this observation to argue that "Damn you" was the original powerful curse phrase (in English), with "Fuck you" being recruited as a replacement term when damn declined in emotional power.
    Check it out:
    http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/books/stuff/index.html – Prof. Caldwell-Harris

Post a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *