Why do we curse?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by John J. Bannan, Jul 2, 2007.

  1. SagaciousMind Am User Registered Senior Member

    Indeed, I should not make lists that seem definitive.
    Doesn't that fit into the category of being to lazy to say it all?

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  3. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    (this was a general response to the thread and not a response to SagaciousMind's last post)

    This whole idea that we should substitute other words for curses is ridiculous. Curses are part of the speaker's and the writer's palettes. They contain meaning in very efficient forms. They are expressive.

    To make general rules saying they should not be used seems 1) a waste of time 2) confused about language.

    Many of the curses in English are actually Anglo-Saxon everyday words. They were considered coarse by those portions of the upper classes who had Norman blood or wanted to appear just so precious. (I believe I have this right but the real linguists can jump in and correct me). Curse words are not inherently bad. They do not damage the ear drum.

    And 'fuck you' can be an appropriate and in a sense mild rebuke. If someone says that to me, I know they are angry AND I do not come away with some judgement. That person could have insulted my weight, said my wife was a whore, made fun of my looks....etc. In other words they might have found a something to say that would stick with me later. What do I come away with? That guy was really pissed off. Clean.

    I get fired. My car breaks down. I break my big toe. I limp home and find I lost my front door key. 'How was your day?' 'Shitty.' Should I replace that with 'Today was so significantly below the norm that I am not pleased and should perhaps be left alone.'

    Give me a break. (see, right now this is all hypothetical so I could leave out the participle form of 'fuck' in that sentence)
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  5. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    Here's a scary question (preceded by a couple of assertions).

    Some of the expressive power of these words may be because some people think they are bad words. Some people feel they express more because they feel they are transgressing.

    Are those of us who do not disapprove of the use of curse words in some way dependent on those who do?

    (I actually find that an unpleasant question)

    This does not mean that they need to be around when I use the curse words.
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  7. SagaciousMind Am User Registered Senior Member

    Indeed. It is the 'laziness' factor

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    people don't much feel like talking when they are angry etc., so they resort to short words or phrases to get out a general meaning. Saying your day was 'shitty' is expressive, sure, but not so detailed or explanatory.
  8. I think that swearing is a form of laziness. I resort to profanity when I am comfortable with the group I am with and am in a hurry. I am more inclined to tell someone that they are diseased leppers or aberrant spawn of liverflukes and small rodents than to say that they are @$!() bag scum. I was taught as a child that swearing was for the lazy and the illiterate.
  9. M.A.R.K Registered Member

    I'm of mixed mind when it comes to swearing/curses.

    I don't think they're really offensive though. They're just noises. Y'know.

    But this.......

    Perhaps one of the most interesting words in the English language today, is the word fuck. Of all the English words beginning with f, fuck is the single one referred to as the "f-word". It's the one magical word. Just by it's sound it can describe pain, pleasure, hate and love. Fuck, as most of the other words in English, has arrived from Germany. Fuck from German's "fliechen" which mean to strike. In English, fuck folds into many grammatical categories. As a transital verb for instance, "John fucked Shirley". As an intransitive verb; "Shirley fucks". It's meaning is not always sexual, it can be used as an adjective such as; John's doing all the fucking work. As part of an adverb; "Shirley talks too fucking much", as an adverb enhancing an adjective; Shirley is fucking beautiful. As a noun; "I don't give a fuck". As part of a word: "abso-fucking-lutely" or "in-fucking-credible". Or as almost every word in a sentence: "fuck the fucking fuckers!". As you must realize, there aren't many words with the versitility such as the word fuck,as in these examples used as the following words;
    - fraud: "I got fucked"
    - trouble: "I guess I'm really fucked now"
    - dismay: "Oh, fuck it!"
    - aggresion: "don't fuck with me, buddy!"
    - difficulty: "I don't understand this fucking question"
    - inquery: "who the fuck was that?"
    - dissatisfaction: "I don't like what the fuck is going on here"
    - incompetence: "he's a fuck-off!"
    - dismissal: "why don't you go outside and fuck yourself?"

    I'm sure you can think of many more examples.
    With all these multipurpoused applications, how can anyone be offended when you use the word?
    Use this unique, flexibel word more often in your daily speech. It will identify the quality of your character immediately. Say it loudly and proudly:

    Is Great.

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  10. SagaciousMind Am User Registered Senior Member


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    how true
  11. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    It is literally not laziness in many cases. I am not in the mood to explain, as one possible reason. I cannot explain, is another example. Besides, the longer way of explaining should have the onus for justification. Just why should I have to go on at length in ALL situations?

    Again: language is not simply a bunch of containers for information. You are restricting language use unnecessarily.

    Laziness implies that I am not willing to put in as much effort as you think I should put in. You would listen in on such a conversation between me and a friend of mine and feel like I showed moral weakness - however slight.

    I find that odd in the extreme.

    Do you think people are lazy when they say they are fine? When in fact they have mixed feelings that perhaps sum up to around the median?

    Should they IN ALL CASES give a more detailed explanation of their state of mind and emotions?
  12. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    I think a related issue is poetry, oddly enough. The idea that one can sum up a poem in a paraphrase seems connected to this idea that one 'should' explain in greater detail and 'more clearly'. To me 'shitty' 'fucked up' convey very precise impressions and communicate very accurately and effectively in certain situations.

    If the other person needs to know more information, I can, of course, add this. Or if it is one of those situations where I must be explanatory right from the start, fine, I'll do that.

    I would not say to the other neurosurgeon: quick do something, it's fucked up over here.

    If you want to narrow down your own options for vocabulary use, well, go ahead, restrict yourselves?

    But assuming that you are now less lazy or are more ethical speakers than those who do not wish to restrict themselves in this way is simply that: an assumption and one based on nothing.
  13. SagaciousMind Am User Registered Senior Member

    That's just the point of it. You don't want to go on at length so you swear to get the general idea out. That's what I just said. I also see you applying a negative meaning to my choice of the word 'laziness' which it does not have. Maybe, like you and your swears, I do not have another word for it. In my own 'laziness' I also chose the word 'laziness'. Because it does not contain the whole meaning of what I want it to, you do not get it. So I will now have to respond in length. I suppose it's quite similar to summarizing a movie instead of telling the whole story, or 'paraphrasing' your answer.
    And yes I find the whole question of 'how are you' typically annoying and pointless because people give one word answers that mean nothing. I personally don't like saying fine and only say it because I can't very well say nothing in reply.
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "How are you" is a formality. To paraphrase Loni Anderson, formalities are formalities and that's why we call them that. The formality is not to be observed in its literal meaning. It is a social convention, all connotation and no denotation. Many languages have it: Cómo está usted -- Ni hao ma -- Wie geht es Ihnen? In all cases it is the initiation of a ritual and its only purpose is to reassure our species's pack-social instinct, ten millennia after we began violating that instinct every day by building a civilization and living among strangers.

    We don't wake up in the cave every morning and look around to make sure none of our pack mates--extended family members who have been by our side since birth--was eaten by a bear during the night, and then go on about our collective business side-by-side. We have to reestablish the pack structure with dozens of people whom we haven't seen lately, and establish it with dozens of others we've never seen before. They reply, Muy bien, gracias, y usted -- Hen hao, xie xie, ni ne -- Sehr gut, danke, und Ihnen? It's a ritual. It means nothing except, "We both acknowledge that we are pack mates in this increasingly virtual pack called civilization. The spirit of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer that lives deep inside each of us is satisifed that we are not competitors for scarce resources who must now fight to the death."

    Every pair of human beings who say, "How are you?" -- "Fine, thanks. And you?" are two human beings who are very unlikely to go to war with each other today.

    I find it interesting that there are two paradigms of greeting. Cómo está usted? requires an answer. It begs to establish a dialog, to draw us together as virtual pack mates, to revert us fleetingly to the Mesolithic Era when life was easy to understand. Zdravstvuytye does not. (I'm not picking on the Russians, it's just a language whose greeting, "health to you," I happen to know. And can even pronounce.

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    ) I wonder how that subtly affects and is a representation of the cultures? In English we have both types. We say, "How are you?" and expect a response, but we also say "Hello," "hi" and all the variants of "Good morning," and merely hope for one. What causes us to choose one over the other in a particular situation? (To be fair, the Russians I maligned can also say Kak vash?, "How is it with you?")

    Note that because of the ritualistic nature of these formalities, they lose their power and fade away. "How do you do?" became "how d'ye do?" then "howdy do" with no question mark, and finally "howdy." After migrating into the class of greetings that urge no reply, it has faded away completely except in regional dialect. "How are you?" is starting to sound like "Hawaii" and will probably undergo the same fate.

    So when someone says, "How are you?" and you say, "Fine," it is not a question and an answer. It is the initiation of ritual contact followed by the acceptance of the contact. Two hunter-gatherers who have found a way to coexist peacefully on the same hunting and gathering territory: this planet.

    As long as I'm citing my favorite female TV stars, I'll go with Martha Stewart on this one: "It's a good thing."

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    Last edited: Jul 18, 2007
  15. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    Then you should have no problem with 'concision' 'brevity' 'succinctness' 'efficiency'.
    Even without the value judgements in laziness, it implies that if one had more energy one would go the full nine yards.
    Me, I'm a babbler. I love to talk. Sometimes I do, however, express myself in just a few words. It has nothing to do with my energy levels, focus or lack of ambition.

    But I am much more open to your position if the moral stance I inferred from laziness is not a part of it.

    So a curse word answer is no worse, at the very least, than 'fine' or 'great'?

    If someone asks me what it wrong and I say 'my car brokedown', would I also be being 'lazy' in your sense of the word, since I did not mention it was my transmission (or any of a wealth of other possibilities). Can it not be true that the shorter, rather plain and general answer I gave is the perfect answer given our relationship and the situation and so on.

    In some contexts single curse words seem appropriate to me. They communicate precisely what I want. Perfectly. In fact to answer more fully would sometimes be misleading. These longer more detailed answers would imply that my reaction to the event was other than it was.

    To me using curse words gives sentences nuances that are not found in other sentences without these curse words. I can look at most words and imagine paraphrasing them and adding detail. Curse words are not alone in this.

    It is almost as if you think there is a Platonic realm where complete communicative understanding is met and we can or should compare this real world slapdash one to that.

    I am still finding it strange. But I am more relaxed about it now.
  16. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Fuck you John Bannan!

    I gotta admit that feels good to type.
  17. John J. Bannan Registered Senior Member

    Right back at you!
  18. Benauld Does your dog bite? Registered Senior Member

    Because it's taboo... (Man I like that word!) As for the second question at a guess, Society?
  19. SagaciousMind Am User Registered Senior Member

    If I ask how someone is I usually actually want to know how they are, not get a 'fine' or 'good, you?'. But I guess that's just me.
    But, to the point, what does your statement have to do with cursing?

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    And I wasn't the one who brought up the example of '"how are you?" "fine"' in relation to cursing. Maybe you should direct your comment to Grantywanty.
  20. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    And just to add to the irony: I generally answer that question as if it was a real question. If I am not in a good mood, I say it. If I know them well, they may find a curse word coming back - not directed at them, of course, unless they just ran over my foot.

    With people who get used to this directness on my part, I have found that many enjoy just laying out the truth of their own states back at me. If we are walking past each other, often we don't have time, the urge, interest in greater detail.

    'Yeah, me too.'
    Two smiles, little bright lights in an otherwise shitty day.
  21. SagaciousMind Am User Registered Senior Member


    Haha, I love irony

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  22. Grantywanty Registered Senior Member

    1) We use language to mean things. The words refer to other things.

    2) We use language to do things. The word are like tools or moves in a dance.

    I can't see restricting language to 1). I assume there is a 3) (and more beyond) but curses strike me at first as working very well in 2).
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's not just you, but you're certainly in a small, misunderstood minority. People who respond to formalities as if they're meant literally are perceived as iconoclasts. Or perhaps you are an iconoclast, in which case you're not being misunderstood.

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    My bad. Guess I got tangled up in the quote links.
    So you've adapted the formality of greeting to your own community, your own "virtual pack mates." It still serves its primary purpose of reassuring each other that you're still willing partners in civilization even though you didn't wake up in the same cave.
    I would say that primarily we use language to communicate with other people, and that encompasses all of these things. It's a multiple-order of magnitude improvement over gestures, grunts, and all other non-verbal communication. In my opinion language is the key technology which advanced us so far beyond the rest of the animal kingdom. Some linguists suggest that it was the technology which allowed us to plan and successfully execute the diaspora out of Africa.

    But it also serves another purpose that has nothing to do with other people. I'm not sure what to call it: blowing off steam, expressing our feelings to the universe, I suppose the religiously-minded would classify it as "communication" with their gods. Cursing especially falls into this category, just yelling, "Oh crap," or something stronger, in an empty room, when Windows destroys your document or you drop an anvil on your foot. A lot of people sing to themselves. Quite a few people write poetry that they never intend to share with anyone. Many of us talk to our pets, knowing full well that they only understand half a dozen words. We use language in a way that has nothing to do with communication. In this context, I've always felt that we are a little too hard on people who walk around talking to themselves in public. It's not that far removed from our own behaviors. They may be distracted and a little weak on etiquette, but I don't think they're necessarily crazy.

    As I said in another discussion, the Department of Mental Health should simply give each one of them a cellphone headset--a discard from the landfill that doesn't work--and they'll suddenly be perfectly normal.

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