From Publishers Weekly
If you find obscenity in print shocking, skip this review and stay away from Wajnryb's very objective—and entertaining—study of the etymology of taboo expressions. Australian linguist Wajnryb, a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald,
doesn't shy away from listing the most offensive English terms. Her wit and informal, anecdotal style are supported by a prodigious amount of research. According to Wajnryb, "cunt" is easily the most insulting word in English—whether applied to a man or a woman. The origins of "fuck" are shrouded in mystery (contrary to common belief, it is not Anglo-Saxon); since it's the most widely used curse word and can be employed as a noun, verb or adjective, the author says, it has recently lost some of its impact. Wajnryb points out that men curse, or are reputed to curse, more than women, and frequently designate female organs in a hostile manner intended to humiliate women. Wajnryb also examines blasphemy, utterances that derive their power from degrading religion. Especially interesting is the author's exploration of cross-cultural cursing. Even in Japan, where there are allegedly no taboo words, a closer examination uncovers a complex tongue in which insults are hidden in language that serves to enforce social rank. (July 13)
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Fans of the extravagantly profane HBO drama Deadwood
now have a boon companion in Wajnryb, who will edify them on the finer points of swearing. And she also appears to have Al Swearengen's refined sense of humor; she opens each chapter with remarks from a famous historical figure (Michelangelo is attributed with the quote, "You want what on the fucking ceiling?"). Wajnryb notes the strong cultural taboos against profanity--even her fellow linguists have a longstanding aversion to investigating its history--and the existence of the language police in the form of an Illinois institute called the Cuss Control Academy and their futile efforts to clean up our vocabulary. She then launches into a detailed categorization, noting the differences between, for example, blasphemy, invective, and vulgarity. She observes that all cultures engage in swearing and analyzes their motivations for doing so, such as the need for letting off steam. She then discusses individual swear words in terms of their flexibility and historical context. In the words of Bono, who was duly fined by the FCC, it's "fucking brilliant." Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved