Two more little frameworks for the collection, this time about swearing. The swearing section of Pinker’s talk appears to be taken from the book Forbidden Words.
There are five (practical) applications for swearing.
- Dysphemistic – Opposite of euphemism. Force listener to think about negative thing.
- Abusive – Abuse, intimidate, or insult others.
- Idiomatic – Refer to (but do not explicitly mention) something in order to arouse interest, be macho/cool, or express to peers that the setting is informal.
- Emphatic – Emphasize what is being said (pretty self-explanatory).
- Cathartic – Rid oneself of negative feelings by outwardly expressing it.
I am trying to train my self to quickly categorize which one of these is in play when ever I hear somebody swear. Of course, none of these is as simple as they look. Cathartic, for example, might be a kind of plumbing problem where the emotion escapes our inner containment building, or it might just be a signaling device for notifying others that our inner plumbing is over heated, or it might be a fight warning repurposed by our language centers. Also, with swearing, you never know who the audience – often it’s part of our inner dialog. Clearly there is plenty of room for ambiguity and misunderstanding as to intent.
People often apologize after they swear. “Excuse my French” You would think there would be unique apologies for each of those five.
Slicing this in an entirely different way swear words appear to come in five principle subspecies, and they – sort of – travel with a emotion.
- Body Effluvia (disgust) – oh booggers!
- Sexual (revulsion) – Fuck a duck!
- Others (contempt, hate) – Damn Middlemen!
- Supernatural (awe) – EGad!
- Disease, death, infirmity (dread) – A pox upon you!
I plucked that list directly from Plinker’s slides. He assures us that the emotions are all negative. But I think powerful is more accurate. I can’t quite tease apart disgust from revulsion; and I suspect that titillating is actually the emotion triggered by sexual swearing.
We do not appear to have labels for all these different species, though blaspheme names the fourth one.
The third one has a modern label: politically incorrect. Which only goes to highlight that advocates of politically incorrect speech are pro-swearing; probably for the purpose of being abusive bullies.
Missing here I think are the homophones and the creative reconstructions of words, e.g. my children who say “Cheese and rice”, or the old fashioned “Odds Bodkins”. (Or perhaps that’s the “idiomatic” slice.)
Edward – Yeah, there is surely an entire ontology of euphemisms. It would provide hours of fun to fill out. I guess if I had a OED I could look into the history egads, it might be an example of the homophonic euphemism family.