Reviews > Published on December 2nd, 2014

Bookshots: 'Damn! A Cultural History of Swearing in Modern America' by Rob Chirico

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Damn! A Cultural History of Swearing in Modern America

Who wrote it?

Spoiler alert: there's really no difference between screaming "shoot" and "shit" when stubbing a toe, at least to your brain

Rob Chirico, artist and author of several books, including Field Guide to Cocktails.

Plot in a box:

Non-fiction works aiming to investigate the historical underpinnings of society's obsession with bad words thankfully don't come with plots.

Invent a new title for this book:

What the Shit? Why We Curse All the Fucking Time

Read this if you liked:

Coming up with creative ways to dump on your friends when you were younger; brooding in timeout after your hypocrite parents washed your mouth out with soap when you were younger; cursing: any time, anywhere.

Meet the book's lead(s):

Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

George Carlin

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Oh, I've been living in this filthy world for years, believe me.

What was your favorite sentence?

Literally or figuratively, words cannot stand alone; they can only be fully understood in relation to the message they are meant to convey. In that respect the context in which language is spoken determines the comprehension and reaction of the listener. Is our choice of graphic expletives just a means of being descriptive, or is it an expression for establishing and possibly rationalizing our personal identities in the real world around us? On a more basic level, have we assimilated the F-bomb into our vocabulary just because it sounds so damned good?

The Verdict:

Everybody curses. Parents curse. Pastors curse. Presidents curses. Everyone expresses anger or frustration or joy or sorrow vocally, often using a few choice words to color their response. Damn! takes a look at why we all curse, how certain words became so prevalent in the English language, and the various ways that people curse even when they think they're being clean (spoiler alert: there's really no difference between screaming "shoot" and "shit" when stubbing a toe, at least to your brain).

This book could be a bit corny at times, but its in-depth look at various factors involved in swearing and its non/acceptance in our society is fascinating. Each chapter approaches the concept from a specific angle, from the psychological necessity of cursing in a war zone to the rebellious nature of the evolution of women's use of dirty language to the emotional relationship that swearing has to crying, one being more and more acceptable than the other as a person ages. It's a fairly straightforward read, so it isn't going to mightily impress someone who isn't already interested in learning about so-called "filthy language," but on the flip side, anyone with a mouth towards the vulgar will appreciate the comprehensiveness of Chirico's handling of the topic. There are humorous anecdotes and running jokes and dirty stories all thrown in with the bawdy history lesson. The word "fuck" is given special attention, looked at from as many angles as it has functions in today's world.

There really are no surprises here. If you clinked on the link to read this review, you're probably the exact type of person who would enjoy this book. What the fuck are you waiting for? It could also work as a great gift for some vulgar dickhead, shit stain, or bastard in your life.

About the author

Brian McGackin is the author of BROETRY (Quirk Books, 2011). He has a BA from Emerson College in Something Completely Unrelated To His Life Right Now, and a Masters in Poetry from USC. He enjoys Guinness, comic books, and Bruce Willis movies.

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