Home / Science / Building the Perfect Profanity | Discover Magazine

Building the Perfect Profanity | Discover Magazine

Building the Perfect Profanity | Discover Magazine

What makes a swear phrase? Why are some phrases extra profane than others?

Temple University researcher Jamie Reilly et al. study this query in a brand new paper known as “Building the good curse phrase: A psycholinguistic investigation of the type and that means of taboo phrases.”

Reilly et al. began out by getting MTurk contributors to charge the tabooness of a set of 1,194 English phrases. Each phrase was given a rating from 1 (least taboo) to 9 (most taboo). The authors then tried to foretell the tabooness of every phrase primarily based on 23 variables, which included each semantics (that means) and phonology (phrase size and sound).

It turned out that semantics had been the most essential predictor of obscenity:

Taboo phrases are barely extra summary than concrete and extra typically connote physique components, bodily acts, gender, and/or illness.

The phonology of phrases wasn’t strongly associated to their tabooness, and neither was phrase size — that means that “four-letter words” usually are not, in truth, extra prone to be impolite ones.

But Reilly et al. did not cease with single phrases. Noting that phrase combos (compounds) can produce an virtually infinite number of novel phrases, the authors went on to contemplate taboo compounds.

This led them to put in writing one in all the extra colourful phrases in any strategies part I’ve learn:

We examined a possible supply of emergent tabooness when combining extant taboo phrases (e.g., shit) with widespread nouns (e.g., gibbon) to type novel compounds (e.g., shitgibbon).

Reilly et al. took 487 widespread, innocuous English phrases and requested contributors to contemplate how nicely they might lend themselves to being mixed with a profanity (they offer the instance “assdoor”).

The volunteers rated every phrase for its “compoundability,” and so they might select whichever taboo phrase they thought would greatest match with every regular phrase.

It turned out that phonology mattered on this case: shorter phrases with extra cease consonants had been seen as higher taboo compound candidates.

In phrases of semantics, “body part,” “receptacle” and “animacy” had been the options that greatest predicted a phrase that might be fruitfully compounded with a taboo.

The 5 strongest candidates for taboo compounding included sack, trash, pig, rod, and mouth … the 5 least acceptable candidates had been hearth, restaurant, tennis, newspaper, and doctor.

In different phrases, calling somebody an assmouth is prone to be a more practical insult than calling them an assrestaurant. (I am undecided I agree with that.)

To me, the most attention-grabbing consequence right here is that taboo phrases haven’t got a attribute phonology, however phonology does decide how simply a phrase may be paired with a taboo time period. I ponder if that is associated to how sure phrases simply sound funnier than others.

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