Magazine December 19, 2016, Issue

A Course on Cursing

In Praise of Profanity, by Michael Adams (Oxford, 272 pp., $17.95)What the F: What Swearing Reveals about Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, by Benjamin Bergen (Basic, 288 pp., $27.99)

In In Praise of Profanity, Michael Adams argues plausibly that the threshold for what counts as profane (or obscene, or vulgar, all related but not synonymous concepts) is vague and radically context-dependent. I can write “douche bag” out, for instance, and the editors of National Review can’t do anything about it. The fact that this is a book review about dirty words provides plenty of evidence that I mean “douche bag” in the indecent sense, to be sure — but that evidence is circumstantial. And, besides, I took out a little extra insurance by using a space between “douche” and

In This Issue



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