Where Did Cussing Come From?

Where Did Cussing Come From?

Found this story by Maddie Crum in the Huff Post about the origins of cussing. So damn interesting.


You’re running late, you’re out the door, you’re sitting in traffic, and some *** **** has the nerve to swerve into your lane, forcing you to slam on your brakes, nearly causing a pileup. What the actual ****?

Your reaction, clawing out from the depths of your gut, is to scream profanities. To yourself, out the window, or by offering your middle finger, a gesture as blunt as any four-letter expletive.

Swearing may have been chastised as blasphemous, aggressive, unprofessional, and a lazy mode of communication, but there’s no denying that it’s a powerful one, and can have strong effects on both the swearer and the recipient of swears.

Benjamin K. Bergen, linguist and author of What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains and Ourselves, explained in a phone interview that the visceral emotions swearing elicits may be due to the unique qualities of swear words, which, he says, are in a league of their own as far as language goes.

“It’s the type of language we use to invoke and pull out the strongest emotions in other people,” Bergen told The Huffington Post, noting that language scientists have known for over 150 years that even stroke victims who have lost the ability to speak are still capable of spontaneously cursing.

“They can’t look at a picture of a cat facing a dog and say, ‘The cat is facing the dog,’ but they can let out an expletive in frustration,” he said. This is because, linguists are discovering, cussing comes from a different part of the brain than other modes of spoken communication. “It’s [an] older, emotion-regulation part of the brain that we share with other primates and mammals,” Bergen said.

The primal nature of profanity might start to explain why so many expletives – despite originating from a few disparate, thematic sources…

Continue reading here.


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