Thursday, October 27, 2011

Swear Your Way

Did you know that in English roughly 80 to 90 of the words spoken every day - or 0.5% to 0.7% of the total - are swear words? By comparison, first-person plural pronouns (we, us and our) make up around 1% of spoken words. 

Did you know, too, that swear words exist in all human languages

There’s even swearing in the Bible: the Authorised King James Bible from 1611 talks of men who “eat their own dung, and drink their own piss” which, while not the strongest language in the world, you’d still think twice about saying in front of your Gran.

No wonder swear words are so popular. But there’s more to it than that: recent research claims that swearing is an anger management technique and it can even relieve physical pain and stress - although we should maybe take that last claim with something of a pinch of salt, as the research won its authors the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize.

Clearly though there are different types of swearing – there’s the semi-instinctive swear word that slips out in the heat of the moment when you hit your thumb with a hammer, for example. But that is a world away from casually slipping a swear word into conversation with your friends.

Swearing in this sense is often premeditated to cause an effect and can, apparently, serve to establish a group identity or express solidarity, trust and intimacy.

Then there’s comedy: the clever use of a swear word or coming up with a particularly inventive cuss can pretty much guarantee a laugh in some audiences  - and all the more so if it comes from an unexpected source.

So swearing is, if not necessarily commendable, than certainly useful. It’s pretty fascinating too: some people claim swearing may even be a different form of language, coming from outside the “language area” of the brain.

As Steven Pinker notes in The Language Instinct, language production takes place in the cerebral cortex. But swearing is controlled by the lower subcortical structure, which is apparently a more primitive part of the brain, associated with aggression and emotion.

These are, apparently, the same neural structures that control the vocal calls of primates. So think about it the next time you casually turn the air blue – you’re probably doing something a lot more interesting than you might think.

So why are users making swearing Siines? We swear; you swear – even you Mom swears when she thinks you’re not looking. And that means we swear a lot when we’re texting. 

But swearing can get boring. There’s nothing worse than someone who endlessly uses the same swear word until it totally loses its meaning. 

At the same time, some of the most inventive uses of language that exists these days involve swearing: think of your favourite rap records or a good comedian. Or how about the BBC comedy The Thick Of It – surely the high point of all recent swearing in the English language? 

Users can now swear better and swear quicker with their Siines.

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