Synopses & Reviews
Have we always "sworn like sailors"? Has creative cursing developed because we can't just slug people when they make us angry? And if such verbal aggression is universal, why is it that some languages (Japanese, for instance) supposedly do not contain any nasty words? Throughout the twentieth century there seems to have been a dramatic escalation in the use and acceptance of offensive language in English, both verbally and in print. Today it seems almost commonplace to hear the "f" word in casual conversation, and even on television. Just how have we become such a bunch of cursers and what does it tell us about our language and ourselves?
In Expletive Deleted, linguist Ruth Wajnryb offers an entertaining yet thoroughly researched, lighthearted look at this development, seeking to reveal the etymologies of various terms and discover how what was once considered unfit-for-company argot has become standard fare. Wajnryb steps outside the confines of English in her search for answers, exploring whether offensive words in English are mirrored in other languages and examining cultural differences in the usage of dirty words. For instance, why is it that in some languages you can get away with intimating that a person and his camel are more than just good friends, while pouring scorn on a mother's morals guarantees you a seat on the next flight out?
An amusing and idiosyncratic look at the power of words to shock, offend, insult, amuse, exaggerate, let off steam, establish relationships, and communicate deep-felt emotions, Expletive Deleted is a must-read for anyone who loves language -- or has ever stubbed a toe.
"If you find obscenity in print shocking, skip this review and stay away from Wajnryb's very objective and entertaining study of the etymology of taboo expressions. Australian linguist Wajnryb, a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, doesn't shy away from listing the most offensive English terms. Her wit and informal, anecdotal style are supported by a prodigious amount of research. According to Wajnryb, 'cunt' is easily the most insulting word in English whether applied to a man or a woman. The origins of 'fuck' are shrouded in mystery (contrary to common belief, it is not Anglo-Saxon); since it's the most widely used curse word and can be employed as a noun, verb or adjective, the author says, it has recently lost some of its impact. Wajnryb points out that men curse, or are reputed to curse, more than women, and frequently designate female organs in a hostile manner intended to humiliate women. Wajnryb also examines blasphemy, utterances that derive their power from degrading religion. Especially interesting is the author's exploration of cross-cultural cursing. Even in Japan, where there are allegedly no taboo words, a closer examination uncovers a complex tongue in which insults are hidden in language that serves to enforce social rank. (July 13)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In this captivating foray into foul language, linguist Wajnryb offers a provocative glimpse into the eternal fascination with curse words.
About the Author
Ruth Wajnryb is an applied linguist, researcher, and writer. She has a weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald in which she explores linguistic topics.