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Customer Review

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting diversion albeit with no true purpose, 7 Oct. 2008
This review is from: The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television (Paperback)
It isn't about television and there aren't seven words, but this is an essay about obscene language. There are intelligent questions and ruminations about why we swear and how language becomes offensive for different people - and how offensive language can also be downgraded.

Pinker knows a lot about the brain and about the structure of English and this book is half playful and half serious when it explores modern attitudes to language. It is more of an exploration than a thesis, because he does not come to firm conclusions or offer a prescription as a result of his thoughts. We do get some neat quotes (Lenny Bruce comes out King) and some smart ironies and illogicalities. The incredible unintended self-satire of the Clean Airwaves Act has to be read to be appreciated.

The most perceptive quote for me is C. S. Lewis' observation that, "As soon as you deal with [sex] explicitly, you are forced to choose between the language of the nursery, the gutter, and the anatomy class." And my favourite rudism is by Lyndon Johnson: "He wouldn't know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel."

Pinker sometimes states as fact things I wanted to take issue with (- is it proven that men lie more to get sex than women do or is that simply his supposition? I don't think I agree wholly with him about intransitive verbs either) - and on page 38 he asks himself a question he barely tries to answer. He could have looked at stigma words like racist and paedophile, which would have been a good fit for his subject.

The end result is a book that is an enjoyable read, intelligently written, but not a thesis or even a comprehensive examination. But that is not a killer criticism as it is a very illuminating read and on a subject we can all relate to. Or so, at least, seemd to think the people who read it over my shoulder on the tube: they got an eyeful.
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Location: London, UK

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