Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And more swear words

Today on Weekday, Steve Scher interviewed Steven Pinker, one of my favorite linguists. I didn't listen. That's because, along with interesting political speakers who visit here at work (like presidential candidates and my soon-to-come review of Newt Gingrich), we get to see interesting authors too, and we were lucky enough to get Dr. Pinker in to speak about his new book.

It was a great lecture, and I recommend everyone read his new book because as an audience we spent the better part of an hour and a half laughing out loud at some of his examples, but my favorite was his discussion of how you can tell a lot about human thought by the obscene language they use (I've never heard so much bad language spoken in such a short period of time; and hearing it at work just made it that much more funny!) and brief divergence into how swear words in different languages don't translate. Specifically, he said that in Quebec, being a very Catholic society and the place where he grew up, the worst swear words you can utter are, "Damn Tabernacle" and "Damn Chalice". He also said that he's single-handedly trying to resurrect a phrase last commonly used in the sixteenth century because he loves its beautiful alliterative imagery: "Kiss a cow's cunt". Not quite "Three hundred hairy bears!" but still pretty good.

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