If I say the words “poetry” and “cussing” in the same sentence, do you automatically make the connection? Perhaps not. But Steven Pinker, the author of The Stuff of Thought and a number of other fascinating books about language, makes one. Here’s what he says in his conclusion to a chapter on swearing and cuss words:
“When used judiciously, swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive. More than any other form of language, it recruits our expressive faculties to the fullest: the combinatorial power of syntax; the evocativeness of metaphor; the pleasure of alliteration, meter, and rhyme; and the emotional charge of our attitudes, both thinkable and unthinkable. It engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern. Shakespeare, no stranger to earthy imprecations himself, had Caliban speak for the entire human race when he said, “You taught me language, and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse.” (p. 372)
Sounds like poetry to me.
Pinker’s book is quite wonderful. More info on the book…