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U of U class teaches the linguistics of foul language


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SALT LAKE CITY — You're not supposed to say them.

We can't spell them out for you.

But at the University of Utah, you can get credit for studying curse words.

The university's Linguistics Department offers an online class titled "Bad Words and Taboo Terms," taught by Randy Eggert.

"We started it really as a class that would attract non-majors," he said.

"It's a fairly new area of research," Eggert said. "For years the topic itself was taboo. Few people were willing to research it seriously until the 1980s."

Bad words, themselves, though, are nothing new.

One particular word, he says, probably predates the English language.

"Our best etymological guess is it probably goes back to Indo-European, back to the mother language of Latin, Greek, Germanic languages."

Four hundred years ago William Shakespeare hinted at the word but never scripted it. "There was a lot of censorship," Eggert said.

These words, he says, run deep within the brain.

"(The vocabulary is) so hard wired into us that it taps into our deepest emotions and our deepest brain," he said.

Some people with brain damage who can no longer speak other words, Eggert said, can still curse.

"That's something we seem to need. All languages have these taboo words that have more emotions built into them," he said.

"I teach this stuff and as I taught it more and more the words come out of my mouth fairly easily but in my personal life I don't really like swearing."

"The rational side of me realizes that these are just words," Eggert said, "but … they still hit me as strongly as anybody else."

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