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‘What The F’: UC San Diego Professor On Why People Swear

Sign in downtown Virginia Beach, VA reminding visitors of: no swearing ordina...

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Above: Sign in downtown Virginia Beach, VA reminding visitors of: no swearing ordinances. November 5, 2005.

‘What The F’: UC San Diego Professor On Why People Swear


Benjamin Bergen, professor of cognitive science, UC San Diego

Book Event

When: Tuesday 7:30 p.m.

Where: Warwick's La Jolla

Book cover, "What the F" by Benjamin Bergen.

Some people swear like a sailor while others might drop the occasional f-bomb but almost everyone is guilty of swearing, even politicians.

The president of the Philippines recently expressed regret after cursing President Obama.

Benjamin Bergen, a cognitive scientists and linguist at UC San Diego, said people swear in part because they are experiencing heightened emotions and profanity helps people convey those emotions more strongly, quickly and effectively.

“It’s not just negative emotional states, but they also swear when they are excited and sexually aroused," he said. “People also use profanity for the purpose of arousing emotional states in others.”

In his new book, “What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains and Ourselves", Bergen breaks down profanity into four categories: religious, sexual, bodily functions and slurs.

He says slurs have evolved to become the most offensive type.

“In contemporary American culture we’ve become much more sensitive to identity politics and sensitive to people’s ability to create who they want to be and what they want to be called," Bergen said. "I see in millennials a much greater sensitivity to language targeting people who belong to marginalized groups.”

How does swearing work in the brain? And how does it affect children?

Bergen discusses the science behind swearing on Midday Edition Tuesday.

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