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steven pinker swears just like you August 31, 2007

Posted by KG in books, news, science.


from wired:

Pinker believes cursing is rooted in a primordial part of our brains, which means f-bomb-like utterances are not unique to Homo sapiens. “I wouldn’t say that other mammals swear, per se, since they don’t have the language,” he explains, speaking in the academic tone of a spinster peering at a dog turd through pince-nez. “But I think the same parts of the brain are involved when you bump your head and yell, ‘Oh fuck!’ as when you step on a dog’s tail and get a very sudden howl.”

The experimental psychologist also takes a fresh look at the “poo-poo theory,” which proposes that swearing was actually the first form of language. He points to the fact that brain-damaged patients who lose the power of articulate speech often retain the ability to curse like a sailor. “Since swearing involves clearly more ancient parts of the brain,” Pinker says, “it could be a missing link between animal vocalization and human language.”

“Cathartic swearing,” analogous to the earsplitting shrieks of rats, cats, and monkeys, is part of a primal, embedded rage circuit, and likely evolved to startle and unnerve an attacker. The advent of language only added nuance. “If you want to intimidate someone,” Pinker says, “then talking about sexual acts he does with his mother and advising him to engage in various other undignified or sexual activities is certainly one of the techniques that we use: ‘Go fuck yourself, you motherfucker. Eat shit.'” Hell yeah!



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