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Why do we vloek? Research reveals using short sharp swear words helps ease pain

9 June 2021 1:04 PM
Tags:
Swearing
swear words

Lester Kiewit speaks to Prof Gerhard Van Huyssteen, Prof of Afrikaans and Dutch Linguistics at North West University about cussing. 
  • Lester explores the history and morphology of swearing
  • He asks how some words become curse words for some and yet have perfectly pedestrian meaning for others
  • Prof Gerhard van Huyssteen is conducting research into this on his website vloek.co.za
  • Swear words are processed in the brain's amygdala responsible for flight, fight and freeze responses
  • Research proves short sharp explosive curse words help ease our pain

Every Wednesday Lester delves into some fascinating and quirky historical topic.

This week he explores the history of swearing, curse words, or in local terms 'vloekwoorde'.

How come one person's naughty word is another person's parlance? Hoe as ek van naai praat, I absolutely mean that I am sewing a hem of pants.

Lester Kiewit, Presenter -CapeTalk

Lester has a love of language and the magic of words.

How air from our lungs flows over our vocals chords and resonates in how our thoughts get formed by our tongue and our teeth, or a click of our pallets forms an image or a thought in our brain is amazing.

Lester Kiewit, Presenter -CapeTalk

Prof Gerhard Van Huyssteen has such a love for swear words he even has his own website vloek.co.za showcasing the myriad varieties and meanings - and is part of a big research project.

He is an expert in Afrikaans Linguistics (Morphology); Cognitive and Construction Grammar; Language Technology and is currently conducting research

There is enough research worldwide in a variety of languages to show us that swear words often share phonetic similarities. They are often short words, three or four letters. They often contain so-called explosives like a 'p' or a 'b'.

Prof Gerhard Van Huyssteen, Linguistics - North West University

These short sharp explosive words create this strength in our heads, on the one hand, he suggests.

On the other hand, these swear words are processed in our brains differently from other words. Research has proven that if you swear while experiencing pain, the pain is easier. This leads us to believe that part of swearing is processed in the amygdala in the brain where your fight and flight and freeze responses are.

Prof Gerhard Van Huyssteen, Linguistics - North West University

This also seems to apply when people get a fright, he says.

Why are people shouting swear words when they get a skrik?

Prof Gerhard Van Huyssteen, Linguistics - North West University

The prof laughingly told Lester that he asked permission from his mom to do swear word research, and she said ok.




9 June 2021 1:04 PM
Tags:
Swearing
swear words

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