I’ll cop to it – I’m a sucker for language geekery. I focused a lot on Linguistics in college, and still enjoy the subject, even though I don’t actually do it for any kind of a living.
Daniel Foster in NRO reviews two new books on the subject – with some fascinating insights tucked in.
While I urge fellow language geeks to read the whole thing, I liked this bit in particular:
Bergen’s treatment of slurs is slight and tentative compared with his coverage of other subject areas, but he’s Kanye West compared with Adams. Consider that Bergen’s first chapter is titled “Holy, F*cking, Sh*t, N*gg*r” sans asterisks. It hits like a freight train, producing first an uncontrollable guffaw and then a pupil-dilating scandal. But the formulation is actually much more innocent, a shorthand for the ingenious theory that all languages are sortable into four categories according to whether their most taboo words are blasphemous, copulative, scatological, or bigoted. Spanish, for instance, is a sex language, while the French, for all their fallenness, consider sacrilegious speech most offensive. German, infamously, is a language obsessed with “scheisse.” And English, Bergen argues, is among the relatively few languages where the biggest taboos are slurs.
It’s interesting, reading “Beowulf” and seeing how very comfortable English speakers in that era were with scatological talk, but how very carefully they avoided blasphemy. Given we’re a nation of immigrant’s, it’d seem we are little hinky about pretty much all cursing, one way or the other.