I’m John McWhorter, professor of linguistics at Columbia University. My new book, NINE NASTY WORDS, explores what imbues profanity with such power, and why we love it so much. AMA.
Hi Reddit! I’m John McWhorter, professor of linguistics, American studies, and music history at Columbia University and host of the Lexicon Valley podcast on Slate. I’ve written multiple books that examine the way we speak, write, and read.
In my new book, NINE NASTY WORDS, I investigate nine of our favorite curse words from every angle – historical, sociological, political, and linguistic – to show how, as language evolves, so, too, does what we consider profane or unspeakable. I share where our urge to curse comes from(hint: it’s not the same part of the brain that processes speech), why “hell” is the most confoundingly illogical swear word, and why you do, in fact, need all of those different slang words for “phallus,” among other topics, with the goal of helping readers understand what makes these (mostly) 4-letter words so much more than words.
If you have questions about the origin of the word “f*ck,” today’s most taboo swear words, George Carlin’s infamous comedy routine, or just want to share your favorite piece of profanity, I am here for it. AMA!