Sunday, September 23, 2007

Are we hardwired to curse?

We've had a couple of recent posts on Language Scraps about Steven Pinker's new book (which I still haven't read). I ran across a brief but interesting article about it in Wired, though, with an engaging headline:

Holy @&%*! Author Steven Pinker Thinks We're Hardwired to Curse.

"Cathartic cursing," as Pinker describes in the article, is what we do when we hit our thumb with a hammer or slam our finger in the door, etc. And he says it's similar to, say, a dog's reaction if you step on its tail. I think we all "curse" in this sense, which is to use vocalizations to respond to the pain. Is whether we say fuck or fudge or fiddlesticks really relevant?

And what drives this? Is it related to pain sensation? I get excruciating suicide headaches that usually last several hours, during the peaks of which I have trouble remaining silent. Somehow, the seemingly unbearable pain is mitigated (at least in my mind) by making some kind of noise. Moaning, groaning, anything--just nothing that requires thought. Or is it that if I don't, the feeling of helplessness to ease my misery is too overwhelming? Is it psychological or physiological? I wonder.