Profanity and Language Play (blog post 3 of 3)

Profane language plays a great role in today’s popular culture, often used, like as we saw on Rahm Emanuel’s fake twitter account or in TV shows like South Park, to add to humor. How can profanity be funny when it’s also supposed to make us (as Pinker explains) feel negatively?

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3 Responses to Profanity and Language Play (blog post 3 of 3)

  1. YoungJ says:

    As we discussed in class yesterday, profanity can be funny for many reasons. I think that profanity generally has a negative connotation that comes along with it because it represents informal speech. It is an assumption for Pinker to believe that profanity makes us feel negatively. As the clip from The Wire demonstrated, profanity can be used to convey a variety of emotions both negative and positive. TV shows like South Park and twitter accounts like Rahm Emanuel’s demonstrates to us not only that profanity can be funny, but it can make seemingly boring topics funny. The saying of the word “shit” in a television episode becomes funny when cartoon characters say it over one hundred times in an episode or when a dull sentence such as Coffee, I’m going to drink you like there’s no tomorrow, becomes much more humorous when we add the word “fucking” in front of coffee and “goddamn” in front of tomorrow. I find that while these words help convey emotion to a seemingly boring sentence or subject whether its positive or negative, the reason why Pinker ultimately views profanity as negative is because there’s never a scenario where profane language is entirely appropriate or the best word choice out of all the words that could’ve been used in place of it. Therefore, while profanity is humorous, it will never be used as formal language because, regardless of the situation or context in which it is used, it is always at risk for being considered offensive and therefore negative.

  2. Osprey says:

    Profanity is actually a very versatile sector of language. A little obscene word here and there can serve to exclaim, intimidate, amuse, and many other actions – the uses are virtually limitless!

    Negative emotion is triggered by swear words via neurological causes, as Steven Pinker explains. Specific components of the brain respond to hearing or reading profane words and by becoming activated and expressing negative emotions. As Steven Pinker explains, “taboo words are processed involuntarily.” Therefore, even in a context that would indicate otherwise, a listener or reader does not have much choice in how their brain “hears” the words. Still, this does not stop people from overriding biology and putting aside the negativity to make room for more lighthearted feelings.

    The audience of Pinker’s lecture got a kick out of the many euphemisms available for bodily effluvia; and, even the use of dysphemisms, which is considered abusive swearing, was met with laughter. Perhaps idiomatic swearing is applied the most liberally in the media and the like to evoke laughter. This swearing is basically entirely irrelevant to the situation, and can often be considered entertaining in context because of, not in spite of, this fact. Due to the extraneousness of the swear word, its unexpected presence can prove to be amusing.

    As an example of the many possible inferences and receptions of swear words: I enjoy the TV series “Spartacus,” which is profane in more ways than one. There is a wide range of cursing that certainly employs all five ways of swearing. From “Jupiter’s cock” to “shit fuck,” quite a range of situational language can be experienced.

  3. sami says:

    I agree with YoungJ that profanity can be used to display a variety of emotions. I however disagree that profanity is never the perfect choice of words. Sometimes there is no better word than “Fuck” to display what you feel. I think that profane words result in different emotional reactions from different people. If it is not being directed at me in anger I have no problem with people dropping a few F-bombs to get a real feel for their emotions. I know, however, that there are people who respond negatively to all utterances of profanity. With these individual differences in mind, TV shows that use profanity to add humor are generally aimed at people like me who do not mind the occasional “shit” (or 200) and not directed to people who take extreme offense to the idea of “potty-mouth” 3rd graders. I think that cursing absolutely has a place in language as long as you know the place.
    I also think that the literal meanings of curse words when put into totally different context can be hilarious. For example in class when Professor Vee called attention to fake Rahm Emanuel’s use of the phrase “fucking celery” I started cracking up at the thought of the absurdity of fornicating celery, I mean picture it! I think the innovative ways at which people now use profanity in a non-literal, or just extremely over exaggerated sense definitely helps words that were once extremely negative become hilarious.