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What the F Audiobook

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves

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Publisher's Summary

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 onto 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 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 f--k, What the F is mandatory listening for anyone who wants to know how and why we swear.

©2016 Benjamin K. Bergen (P)2016 Gildan Media LLC

What the Critics Say

"A lively study with the potential to offend just about anyone.... From a linguistic and sociological viewpoint, the book is illuminating, even playful...an entertaining...look at an essential component of language and society." (Publishers Weekly)

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4.2 (237 )
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  •  
    Gillian Austin, TX, United States 04-12-17
    Gillian Austin, TX, United States 04-12-17 Member Since 2017

    SciFi/Fantasy and Classics to History, Adventure and Memoirs to Social Commentary—I love and listen to it all!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Take A Deep Breath, Hold Your Nose, Dive Right In"

    Quick! Who here hasn't come across a foreign language and asked, "Yeah, but what are the baaad words?" Well, okay; maybe that's just me...
    From the get go, you're immersed in the world of slurs, and taboo words. At first you feel like a frog dumped in a pot of boiling water, but as you get through the text, the water becomes oddly just fine.
    After all, this is more than just a book of lists (tho' there are plenty that'll make your jaw drop). It's a fascinating world of cultures, linguistics, religion, and more.
    What's most interesting through it all, are the various tests scientists use to analyze and evaluate words/phrases/concepts that I can't list, or Audible will flag my review (and I get the whole "pending approval" thing far too often; I'm a cherub! What are they talking about?!?). You'll listen to studies about brain hemispheres and mouth lateralizations, power and disempowerment, even studies on pain tolerance.
    If you can handle the liberal use of questionable (or flat-out extreme) words, this book is for you. Filled with cheeky good-humor, it's a delightful romp into what used to be extreme but is now tame, what is now tame but could be worse.
    Quick! When is a finger just a finger?
    When you're trying to say "brothers" in Japanese Sign Language... get your mind out of the gutter :)

    65 of 73 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cmat 10-05-16
    Cmat 10-05-16 Member Since 2014
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    "Informative meets entertaining"

    Warning, if you're sensitive about profane word use, this probably will be a hard one to handle.
    But I would expect people to get that from the subject matter.

    Beyond that warning, if you like words and language, this will be well worthing the listen. The reader does a great job and the book ends up being a much more scholarly approach to the topic than I would have guessed.

    45 of 51 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roseann Gillespie 10-03-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Informative and delightful!"

    I read because I enjoy learning. A well written book is intellectually stimulaing, thought and conversation provoking. It's not often its actually fun and funny. The fact it's read by the author adds the dimension hearing his passion and his dry sense of humor made it so enjoyable it became a weekend binge listen. The conversations it started with friends led them to download it the next day. Learning starts immediately and does not stop, nor do you want it to. The chapter on grammar, yes grammar, is laugh out loud funny. You can't help but say "I never realized that! But holy c#%p! he's right!" Best book in a while, started to relisten immediately, its that fun and informative.

    44 of 51 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sharey 04-16-17
    Sharey 04-16-17 Member Since 2015
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    "Who knew..."

    ...you could write this much about swearing? This is a surprisingly comprehensive and interesting book. The narration was also very good. I enjoyed it. It's not fluff though. If you are not academically inclined or interested in linguistics, this may not be the book for you.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel 09-26-16
    Daniel 09-26-16 Member Since 2017
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    "Fucking Awesome!"

    A very good look on how language is colored by swearing. Both humorous and technical. It proves that you can be smart, funny and swear like a drunken sailor! In the right context.

    50 of 68 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel H. 04-27-17
    Daniel H. 04-27-17 Member Since 2017
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    "Interesting exploration of profanity"

    This is a fun, short look at profanity. Dr. Bergen explores the evolution, use, and effect of profanity on others. I found the material itself compelling, but what I most enjoyed was the narration. Dr. Bergen's passion for the subject matter is obvious, and he is the perfect narrator for his own book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daina 04-25-17
    Daina 04-25-17
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    "How to Stop Swearing..."

    The grammar section alone will provide a convincing case to stop swearing. I never knew swearing was so complicated. If you love language and linguistics, you'll enjoy this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Sarasota, FL, United States 04-25-17
    John Sarasota, FL, United States 04-25-17
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    "Who knows...??"

    Ordinarily I am a fan of Gildan Media books. From time to time the narrators (usually the authors themselves) read so rapidly that the meaning of what's being said is lost in the fusillade of words. Beyond that, it seems to me that Bergen's book is very much in need the attention of an exacting editor.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Howard_a United States 04-25-17
    Howard_a United States 04-25-17 Member Since 2013
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    "A little funny, but a bit pointless"

    Mix a highly educated researcher with nothing to do, and you get this... Kind of funny at times. It contains etymologies of some of the profane words. Some of the stuff is funny, but a lot of it boring. If you got this far, go for a fiction book :-) Book is narrated well, though.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    kwdayboise (Kim Day) Boise, Idaho 04-22-17
    kwdayboise (Kim Day) Boise, Idaho 04-22-17 Member Since 2015
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    "Encylopedic"

    I believe in swearing. I especially believe in creative swearing. But like any creative endeavour it helps to know the roots and science of a well-honed craft.

    Benjamin Bergen provides that in dirty spades in an encyclopedic look at the world of swearing and, unlike the cover, there's no modifying the words used so it's not a book for people whose strongest oath is "jeepers".

    The book does literally look at the world of foul language, looking into what's common and unique among world cultures for what constitutes a bad word, including what it references (anatomy, activity, excrement, etc.) and the impact of how the word is formed. It also seeks to answer questions and myths around bad language. Why are so many English words kept to four letters? Are hard consonants essential? There are scientific studies, including case studies of stroke victims who lose the ability to say anything but swear words. (Does that mean they're stored in a difference part of the brain or they just are embedded more deeply?) Why does Japan claim no swear words? How do we decide to say "poop" or "peepee" with children but other words describing the same things are considered obscene?

    Beyond the spoken word Bergen also talks about hand and upper body gestures in different countries, some of which seem obscure to we in the US, and places where you should not be giving the peace sign or thumbs up.

    It's exhaustive and nearly exhausting but Bergen keeps things moving with new topics and insights. For a book that covers everything from psychology to linguistics/etymology to sociology to neurology the book is fresh and interesting with thorough research. It's not a book that will change your life in any way but it's a good book with interesting angles on a subject we may have all wondered about at one time or another.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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