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(T)he exact words and concepts considered taboo can vary across times and places. During the history of a language, we often see clean words turning dirty and dirty words turning clean. Most English speakers today would be surprised to read in a medical textbook that “in women the neck of the bladder is short, and is made fast to the cunt”, yet the Oxford English Dictionary cites this from a fifteenth-century source. In documenting such changes the historian Geoffrey Hughes has noted, “The days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow and the windhover could be called the windfucker have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece”…

But despite the variation across time and space, it’s safe to say that most languages, probably all, have emotionally laden words that may not be used in polite conversation. Perhaps the most extreme example is Djirbal, an Aboriginal language of Australia, in which every word is taboo when spoken in the presence of mothers-in-law and certain cousins. Speakers have to use an entirely different vocabulary (though the same grammar) when those relatives are around.

Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
lowlowprices
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
Is that picture how the interpreter translates swearing into Gothic in "Asterix the Legionary"??
webofevil
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:51 am (UTC)
Of course!
ruudboy
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
I trust you're aware that diabetes was previously known as "the pissing evil"?
webofevil
Jun. 17th, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
I was not. How mind-reamingly apt.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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