Swearing provides insights into human thought, language
What the F
Benjamin K. Bergen
Basic Books, $27.99
Few of the expletives discussed in cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen’s new book can be spelled out in this review. But Bergen argues, in a bluntly engaging way, that the largely secret science of swearing reveals much about who we are.
Based on surveys of what people in several Western nations regard as unacceptable, the author divides profanity into four categories: praying (using names of religious figures and religious words, such as holy and damn, in secular ways), fornicating (the F-word and other terms for the sex act and genitals), excreting (everything related to bodily functions, from feces to vomit) and slurring (offensive words for groups