“A sneaky–charming, consistently engrossing–introduction to linguistics.” –New York Times Book Review
Everyone swears. Only the rare individual can avoid ever letting slip an expletive. And yet, we ban the words from television and insist that polite people excise them from their vocabularies. That’s a fucking shame. Not only is swearing colorful, fun, and often powerfully apt, as linguist and cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen shows us, the study of it can provide a new window onto how our brains process language. How can patients left otherwise speechless after a stroke still shout out “Goddamn!”? Why did Pop Francis say “fuck” in the middle of a speech? When did a cock cease to be a rooster? Why is “crap” vulgar when “poo” is just childish? And what are we doing when we give someone the bird?
"A sweeping book, exploring not just the history of English profanity in words and in gestures, but also the impact that swears and other taboo words can have on the human brain...a valuable addition to the literature about profanity."
"In What the F, a self-proclaimed 'book-length love letter to profanity,' cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen succeeds in bringing me around to appreciate the broader context, as well as the finer points, of the role 'bad' words play in human society."
"Full of cute tidbits you can drop at cocktail parties.... It's a quick read, not a detailed, academic dissection. But don't mistake breeziness for triviality: cursing plays a central role in our lives."—Ars Technica
"What the F is rigorous enough to guide future scientific inquiry, and casual enough to be read by any ordinary bastard with a passing interest. At the very least, this book reassured me of the profundity of my own human capacity for expression when I rolled out of bed last month to find out who got elected President of the United States and could only utter that one favorite curse word."—PopMatters
"A lively study with the potential to offend just about anyone.... From a linguistic and sociological viewpoint, the book is illuminating, even playful...an entertaining...look at an essential component of language and society."—Publishers Weekly
"What the F is accessible and engaging, and so brimming with insights that, even as a linguist, I found myself stopping every couple of pages to say to myself, 'Huh-I never thought of that.' You'll find yourself saying the same thing-and you'll never hear profanity the same way again."—Geoff Nunberg, author of Ascent of the A-Word, language commentator on NPR's Fresh Air
"What the F teaches us that profanity is not just pungent, but as INTERESTING as other aspects of the miracle we call language."—John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and The Language Hoax
"An elegant, insightful, and ballsy application of rigorous linguistic methods to swearing, that most revealing--and ignored--corner of language.... Though a descriptivist to the core, I issue the following prescription: read this effing book!"—Jesse Sheidlower, author of The F-Word
"Why we swear and where and when it is permissible are explained in this compelling treatise on one of the most taboo subjects in all culture. Read this fucking book or else you might be a wanker."—Michael Shermer, author of The Moral Arc
"It takes courage, energy, extraordinary intellectual chops, and a sense of fun to take on profanity. Ben Bergen has all in full measure. Read this book."—George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, The University of California, Berkeley