"if you consider a woman
less pure after you’ve touched her
maybe you should take a look at your hands"
This is why your brain wants to swear | David Shariatmadari | Comment is free | theguardian.com
A recent study shows that children are adept at absorbing swearwords. That’s the power of linguistic taboos for you
Most of the time, words behave themselves. They’re just a useful arrangement of sounds in our mouths, or letters on a page. They have no intrinsic power to offend. If I told you that skloop was a vile swearword in some foreign language, with the power to empty rooms and force ministerial resignations, you might laugh. How could an arbitrary combination of sounds have such force? But then think of the worst swearwords in your own language and you quickly understand that something else is at play here. Our reaction to them is instant and emotional. Which is why parents will not necessarily rejoice at the findings of a study by Timothy Jay, who looked at the range of “bad” words used by children as young as one. Between the ages of one and two, in fact, Jay’s experiments showed that boys drew on a vocabulary of six such words; girls eight. This expanded rapidly, with five to six-year-old boys using 34 words, and girls of the same age 21. Parents tend to want to protect children from swearwords. We’ve probably all experienced the awkwardness of swearing in front of the children of friends we forgot were there. But Jay’s study suggests the impulse is futile, at least if we believe it’ll stop them learning the words at all. What it might do, however, is teach them about context. There’s a time and a place for swearing, and a sense of taboo can help children understand that society expects different standards of behaviour in different surroundings.