The power of profane language

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Swearing Is Good for You. By Emma Byrne. W.W. Norton; 240 pages; $25.95. Profile Books; £12.99.

IN THESE potty-mouthed times, when certain world leaders sling profanity about with abandon, many observers naturally lament the debasement of speech. But instead of clutching pearls, why not find a silver lining? Learning more about when, how and why people swear offers insight into everything from the human brain to a society’s taboos. Trash talking even affords some real physical and social benefits, as Emma Byrne argues in “Swearing Is Good for You”. 

For all their shock value, swear words are practical and elastic, capable of threatening aggression or coaxing a laugh. Among peers, profane banter is often a sign of trust—a way of showing solidarity with a larger group. Critics may say such language reveals boorish thinking or a limited vocabulary, but swearing is often impressively strategic, and a fluency in crass language typically correlates with…Continue reading

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