An academic’s defense of curse words, cusses, swears, and other expletives.
As Adams (English Language and Literature/Indiana Univ.; From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages, 2011, etc.) points out in his critically thorough, engaging analysis, we are living in “The Age of Profanity,” in which social restrictions on vulgarity have eased substantially enough for freer use of curse words, without sacrificing their power or meaning. (The 2009 decision of Federal Communications Commission vs. Fox Television Stations, Inc. helped assert this cultural shift by establishing an emotive standard for exclamatory expletives.) Not only does the author think this is a good thing, but he hopes this charmed age of swearing lasts a long time. One of the social advantages of cursing, writes Adams, is that it fosters a sense of intimacy and solidarity among speakers. As casual inflections to speech, cursing enables speakers to achieve a common ground and understanding. More than coarse or colorful language, proper cursing also has an element of artfulness. As Adams shows, the art of cursing—and cursing in art—reveals cultural undercurrents and personal intricacies that are not as easily expressed through conventional language. But what words qualify as curses, and why? That’s a more complicated question that requires Adams to unpack the meanings of concepts such as obscenity, indecency, and offensiveness. (“Shit” and “fuck” are the two expletives that Adams examines most often.) Citing examples from popular culture, such as the Showtime series Californication and HBO’s The Sopranos, the author makes a strong case for the usefulness, underlying philosophy, and expressive pleasure of cursing.
A sharp, well-studied dissection of the role of swearing in culture, why people curse, and why it’s good for us.