Synopses & Reviews
Nearly everyone swears—whether it’s over a few too many drinks, in reaction to a stubbed toe, or in flagrante delicto. And yet, we sit idly by as words are banned from television and censored in books. We insist that people excise profanity from their vocabularies and we punish children for yelling the very same dirty words that we’ll mutter in relief seconds after they fall asleep. Swearing, it seems, is an intimate part of us that we have decided to selectively deny.
That’s a damn shame. Swearing is useful. It can be funny, cathartic, or emotionally arousing. As linguist and cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen shows us, it also opens a new window onto how our brains process language and why languages vary around the world and over time.
In this groundbreaking yet ebullient romp through the linguistic muck, Bergen answers intriguing questions: How can patients left otherwise speechless after a stroke still shout Goddamn! when they get upset? When did a cock grow to be more than merely a rooster? Why is crap vulgar when poo is just childish? Do slurs make you treat people differently? Why is the first word that Samoan children say not mommy but eat shit? And why do we extend a middle finger to flip someone the bird?
Smart as hell and funny as fuck, What the F is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to know how and why we swear.
"You might think a book about cursing would tell us that lately people seem to be doing it more, that the F-word goes a long way back, and maybe that in the Old West people used to say ‘Tarnation!' Ben Bergen reveals how much more there is to profanity, ranging from why POO doesn't end in a consonant through how people curse (or not) in other countries and about what things, to whether we should formally ban slurs, and on to the Pope and the brain. What the F teaches us that profanity is not just pungent, but as INTERESTING as other aspects of the miracle we call language." John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and The Language Hoax
"A winner for the psycholinguistics nerd in the house." Kirkus Reviews
"A lively study with the potential to offend just about anyone-From a linguistic and sociological viewpoint, the book is illuminating, even playful-an entertaining-look at an essential component of language and society." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Benjamin Bergen is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Language and Cognition Laboratory. He writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and appears on NPR's Morning Edition, the Brain Science Podcast, and elsewhere. He lives in San Diego, California.