A sharp, well-studied dissection of the role of swearing in culture, why people curse, and why it’s good for us.


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.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-933758-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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