Talking Dirty

Language is one very funny thing. Not only can words differ by nationality, country, and continent, but even smaller areas within the same nation can phrase things wildly differently. You can pick up bits of accents by living in a region long enough; some places use different words for the same thing, like the long standing Soda Vs. Pop debate. One thing that IS universal no matter what country, continent, or region you’re in is swearing. No matter where you are or what language you speak, there are swear words. Not only that, but they’re usually about the same kinda thing. Either words about religion, words about bodily functions, or words that have to do with sexual things. The funny thing is, that might be because of how much we don’t talk about them.

Dear Mr Promiscuous,

Why is it that almost all profanities are in relation to bodily parts/functions, with the vast majority being sexually charged?

Sincerely,

Cunning Linguist

Dear CL,

Profanity is something that dates back to the very beginning of language. No matter the culture, demographic, time, or location people are going to swear. The most common swears (“shit”, “fuck”, “damn” and the like) are all things people consider dirty or “simply not talked about” no matter what part of the world you’re in. Bodily fluids have always been seen as dirty or prone to disease, so we’re conditioned as children that we just don’t talk about them in public or hardly at all in private. As far as why sex acts and words associated with sexual organs used in swearing? Well, we’re going to have to explain a few things about why certain words become swears at all, so bear with me.

Interesting fact: giving a nice, juicy “fuck” when you stub your toe is actually proven to lessen the pain, so some scientist theorize that the reason cursing is so widespread is that the brain has it wired in to help with pain management. It’s also less of a higher-brain function and something almost like a reflex, which is why cursing comes so readily in that moment. (This may also be why replacing the word for something less vulgar like “frag” and “poo” doesn’t work. It’s a more conscious choice than the reflex and doesn’t go through the same brain pathways. So remember: When in pain, swear properly.)

Going international gives you a great view of how mutable the concept of cursing is. In Polish, Thai, and Dutch they consider it a biting insult if you wish disease on people, like cholera. (Another Fun Fact: In Dutch, you can add kanker (roughly translated to cancer) to a word or insult to make it much worse than calling someone a shithead.) In Finnish, you still have a lot of the body part curses (through the worst of those are for female genitalia, because of course it is) there are also a lot to do with the devil (perkele) and hell (helvetti). It’s especially interesting to see dialects of similar languages differ in swearing, as is the case between cursing in France and the cursing in Quebec, the latter of which had a very heavy presence of the Catholic Church and had them using items of the church as curses like tabernacle.

Why are these words the ones you utter or yell when in fits of intense emotion? That has to do with social taboo. As society churns on, we’re taught about what sorts of things are shameful or avoided in conversation and those ideas or phrases become taboo. They’re things people know about, but no one wants to talk about.

There is also the high amount of interest in sex in a lot of societies that makes them appealing. People think about sex, but don’t talk about it casually, so when you’re brain reaches for a strong, emotionally impactful word, those are the ones right on top. What might be really interesting is that, if we ever have a really sex-positive society, would the curses change? Will people shout things like “Taxes” when burning their hands on something hot? It’d be interesting to see how that changes as society does. Hopefully this has also given you some other interesting things to shout out the next time you need to exclaim something.

Have a happy Ficken day!

Mr. Promiscuous

 

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