I found this article absolutely fascinating. I'm pretty passionate about language, though I think the flap about obscenity is stupid; but I do find myself highly irritated when I encounter common examples of bad grammar or usage. I feel my pulse quicken and I go into a defensive mode sometimes.
New York Times: Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore
By NATALIE ANGIER
Incensed by what it sees as a virtual pandemic of verbal vulgarity issuing from the diverse likes of Howard Stern, Bono of U2 and Robert Novak, the United States Senate is poised to consider a bill that would sharply increase the penalty for obscenity on the air.
By raising the fines that would be levied against offending broadcasters some fifteenfold, to a fee of about $500,000 per crudity broadcast, and by threatening to revoke the licenses of repeat polluters, the Senate seeks to return to the public square the gentler tenor of yesteryear, when seldom were heard any scurrilous words, and famous guys were not foul mouthed all day.
Yet researchers who study the evolution of language and the psychology of swearing say that they have no idea what mystic model of linguistic gentility the critics might have in mind. Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, living or dead, spoken by millions or by a small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech, some variant on comedian George Carlin’s famous list of the seven dirty words that are not supposed to be uttered on radio or television.
Young children will memorize the illicit inventory long before they can grasp its sense, said John McWhorter, a scholar of linguistics at the Manhattan Institute and the author of “The Power of Babel,” and literary giants have always constructed their art on its spine.
The Jacobean dramatist Ben Jonson peppered his plays with fackings and “peremptorie Asses,” and Shakespeare could hardly quill a stanza without inserting profanities of the day like “zounds” or “sblood”—offensive contractions of “God’s wounds” and “God’s blood”—or some wondrous sexual pun.
The title “Much Ado About Nothing,” Dr. McWhorter said, is a word play on “Much Ado About an O Thing,” the O thing being a reference to female genitalia.
Even the quintessential Good Book abounds in naughty passages like the men in II Kings 18:27 who, as the comparatively tame King James translation puts it, “eat their own dung, and drink their own piss.”
Entire article (registration-free)