I love a well placed swear word the way some folks love a well-written song lyric. As a kid, swearing was my way of feigning maturity while lightly pushing the boundaries of societal norms. As a teenage anarchist, swear words flowed freely from my lips to show everyone just how much I didn’t care about society’s rules of polite conversation. By the time I married a sailor, I had the foul language skills to make him blush.
Now that I’m a parent, I’ve cleaned up my act, a bit, and I’ve begun to appreciate the impact of a perfectly timed swear. Last year, after a volunteerism conference in Wichita, I stumbled upon a tiny book about cussing that would influence my nonfiction reading selections for months to come. The book, On Cussing, by Katherine Dunn, is a whopping 70 pages and fits right in the palm of your hand. And though it be but little, it is fierce!
This book really delves into the history of cursing and the flexibility of cuss words. Did you know the F-bomb can be a verb, noun, adjective and adverb all in one sentence? Amazing! The book also touches on the science behind why we swear and how these words are stored in our brain. This book really left me wanting more, so I decided to set sail on an adventure into all things foul-mouthed.
The Science of Swearing
Swear!ng Is G*od F*r You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language by Emma Byrne
This is, by far, my favorite book on the subject. Byrne examines the neuroscience of swearing, how it helps us endure pain and work better with a team. She also takes an interesting look at swearing in other languages, even in sign language with chimpanzees! But don’t go thinking that this book promotes the increase of swear words in normal conversation. Emma writes,
“Swearing is like mustard; a great ingredient but a lousy meal. We need that part of our language to keep its potency, its slightly risky nature, otherwise it wouldn’t be swearing.”
Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech by Timothy Jay
I’m gonna warn you, grab a cup of water, because this book is DRY! This is a legit scientific examination of cursing, looking at cursing as a part of neurological networks, psychological development, socio-cultural context (NPS). If you love reading about science and think it would be even better if they swore in scientific studies, then this book is for you! My favorite chapter is “Ignorance, Misinformation, and Fallacies about Cursing”. This is a great one to read the next time you hear someone talk smack about cursing!
The History Of Swearing
Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr
It’s not a brief history, despite what the subtitle says. This is a sweeping investigation of swearing from Ancient Rome to modern day. Thankfully Mohr peppers her timeline of bad words with interesting facts and lots of humor.
F**K: An Irreverent History of the F-Word by Rufus Lodge, read by Richard E. Grant
Where are the fans of swearing and dry, British humor? Join me on this romp through the history of one particular swear word--the mother of all swear words. The narrator is perfectly paired to read this hilarious examination of “the big one”. You’ll learn, you’ll laugh, you’ll wonder how there are so many ways to drop the f-bomb.
Swearing for Self-Improvement
Relatively new on the scene, there have been a bunch of self-help books published with curse words in the title. While a lot of what these books promote has roots in mindfulness, the swearing can start to feel a bit overdone and gimmicky.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson, read by Roger Wayne
While I enjoyed the idea that we need to stop acting like everything is great all the time and start embracing the fact that pain and hardship are an inherent part of life, I just couldn’t get on board with the way the narrator swears all the time. Like, all. the. time.
Swearing for Kids
Learning about swearing isn’t just for adults! If you’d like to broach this subject with kids without showing them a George Carlin stand-up routine, here’s few suggestions to include them in all the fun:
SpongeBob SquarePants, “Sailor Mouth”, Season 2, Episode 18
In this episode, SpongeBob and Patrick learn that certain words are “sentence enhancers” that, when sprinkled in normal conversations create a, “spicy sentence sandwich!” But you can’t just throw those words around anywhere or you’ll get in trouble!
Fantastic Mr. Fox, DVD (2010)
This is a movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book of the same name. Wes Anderson cleverly removes all foul words and replaced them with derivations of the word “cuss”:
Mr. Fox: Don’t cussing point at me!
Badger: If you’re gonna cuss with somebody, you’re not gonna cuss with me, you little cuss!
-Angela Hyde is the Program Coordinator for the Friends of the Lawrence Public Library.