Nine Nasty Words

English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever

John McWhorter

Published by Penguin Press in Hardback (£17.26) on 06-05-2021

Profanity channels our essence without always-making logical sense, and leaves us quaking at the utterance of what are, in the end, just words. But what is it about four-letter words that make them so much more?

We know why languages have terms of endearment, of greeting, of ritual—but why do all languages have collections of words that are “bad”? Profanity, it appears, is a fundamental part of being human.

In Nine Nasty Words, preeminent linguist John McWhorter examines the realms of language that are considered shocking and taboo. McWhorter digs in to the so-called “nasty words,” asking questions like: how ass became a pronoun?; and how did hell lose its bite?

  • “Rollicking, salty, learned, and intensely informative, John McWhorter’s Nine Nasty Words is a grand tour through the history of the profanities we (sometimes) abhor and (sometimes) revel in (and sometimes both), peppered with cameos by everyone from Geoffrey Chaucer and Cole Porter to Tallulah Bankhead and the too-little-known singer-songwriter Lucille Bogan, still making people blush seventy-odd years after her death, God bless her. I laughed frequently and learned plenty.”

    Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times bestselling author of Dreyer's English

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Nine Nasty Words

Language evolves with time, and so does what we consider profane or unspeakable. Nine Nasty Words is a rollicking examination of profanity, explored from every angle: historical, sociological, political, linguistic. In a particularly coarse moment, when the public discourse is shaped in part by once-shocking words, nothing could be timelier.

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