One of the preeminent linguists of our time examines the realms of language that are considered shocking and taboo in order to understand what imbues curse words with such power--and why we love them so much.
Profanity has always been a deliciously vibrant part of our lexicon, an integral part of being human. In fact, our ability to curse comes from a different part of the brain than other parts of speech--the urgency with which we say "f&*k!" is instead related to the instinct that tells us to flee from danger.
Language evolves with time, and so does what we consider profane or unspeakable. Nine Nasty Words is a rollicking examination of profanity, explored from every angle: historical, sociological, political, linguistic. In a particularly coarse moment, when the public discourse is shaped in part by once-shocking words, nothing could be timelier.
About the Author
John H. McWhorterteaches linguistics, American studies, and music history at Columbia University. He is a contributing editor atThe Atlanticand host ofSlate'sLexicon Valleypodcast. McWhorter is the author of twenty books, includingThe Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language,Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, andOur Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.