What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves
by Benjamin K. Bergen
P 410 .O27 B47 2016
“Nearly everyone swears – whether it’s over a few too many drinks, in reaction to a stubbed toe, or in flagrante delicto. And yet, we sit idly by as words are banned from television and censored in books. We insist that people excise profanity from their vocabularies and we punish children for yelling the very same dirty words that we’ll mutter in relief seconds after they fall asleep. Swearing, it seems, is an intimate part of us that we have decided to selectively deny.
That’s a damn shame. Swearing is useful. It can be funny, cathartic, or emotionally arousing. As linguist and cognitive scientist Benjamin K. Bergen shows us, it also opens a new window into how our brains process language and why languages vary around the world and over time.
In this groundbreaking yet ebullient romp through the linguistic muck, Bergen answers intriguing questions: How can patients left otherwise speechless after a stroke still shout goddamn! when they get upset? When did a cock grow to be more than merely a rooster? Why is crap vulgar when poo is just as childish? Do slurs make you treat people differently? Why is the first word that Samoan children say not mommy but eat shit? And why do we extend a middle finger to flip someone the bird?
Smart as hell and funny as fuck, What the F is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to know how and why we swear.”
– publisher description
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
PE 1450 .N67 2015
“Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker‘s copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.
Between You & Me features Norris’s laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage – comma faults, danglers, “who” vs. “whom,” “that” vs. “which,” compound words, gender-neutral language – and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster’s groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world’s only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.
Readers – and writers – will find in Norris neither a scold nor a softy but a wise and witty new friend in love with language and alive to the glories of its use in America, even in the age of autocorrect and spell-check. As Norris writes, “The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it push you around.””
– publisher description
Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard
P 140 .E73 2012
“We all learn at least one language as children. But what does it take to learn six languages, twenty . . . seventy? Such feats of linguistic prowess provide a glimpse into what the human brain is capable of – and hold up a mirror to our desire to live without language barriers on a shrinking planet.
In Babel No More, Michael Erard, “a monolingual with benefits,” sets out on a quest to meet language superlearners and make sense of their mental powers. On the way he uncovers the secrets of historical figures like the nineteenth-century Italian cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti, who was said to speak seventy-two languages and was such a legend that when he died people all over Europe vied for his skull. Emil Krebs, a pugnacious fin de siècle German diplomat, spoke sixty-eight languages, and Erard sees the evidence of this in Krebs’s dissected brain. Lomb Kató, a Hungarian hyperpolyglot who taught herself Russian by reading Russian romance novels, believed that “one learns grammar from language, not language from grammar.” These massive multilinguals have long offered a natural experiment into the limits of the brain; here, at last, we can inspect the results.
On his way to tracking down the one man who could be called the most linguistically talented person in the world, Erard meets other living language-superlearners. Among them is Alexander, a modern-day polyglot with dozens of languages who shows him the tricks of the trade and gives him a dark glimpse into the life of obsessive language acquisition. “I came to consider him a holy man,” writes Erard. “Others do yoga; Alexander does grammatical exercises.”
With his ambitious examination of what language is, where it lives in the brain, and the cultural implications of polyglots’ pursuits, Erard explores the upper limits of our ability to learn and to use languages, and illuminates the intellectual potential in everyone. How do some people escape the curse of Babel – and what might the gods have demanded of them in return?” – publisher description