Ken AshfordRandom MusingsLeave a Comment

Remember learning syntax in grade school?  You know — nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., and how they all fit together?  You typically learn that every communication has a noun and a verb.  or at least good sentences do.

But, when you think about it, much communication really isn’t that way.  In fact, there are words we use that aren’t really parts of speech.

This is particularly so with swear words.  If I shout "Fuck!", I am probably expressing a thought of anger or surprise that has nothing to do with sexual intercourse (i.e., I’m not issuing a command).  If I say "Damn!" or even "Get into the damn house", my use of that word has nothing to do with the actual desire to damn (i.e., condemn to hell) anything.   Nor, in the second sentence, is "damn" really intended to be an adjective (a shortened version of "damned") to describe the house.  It is simply thrown in there to convey urgency or anger.

In other words, swears seem to fall outside the rules of syntax, and can be simply thrown into sentences randomly to convey a feeling, urgency or emphasis.  In fact, swear words often serve as what are called "infixes" — words that can be inserted in other words.  Like "abso-fucking-lutely".    And note how there is a particular way that we do this.  We never say "ab-fucking-solutely" or "absolut-fucking-ly", but rather, "abso-fucking-lutely".

So what’s going on here?  These examples seem to defy what we learned in school about syntax.

Well, this is what some linguists call proto-language, a throwback to human communication before syntax came into vogue.  Prehistoric man developed words at some point, but syntax came along much later.  So they used proto-language; they would say "meat" and it came to mean an entire thought, like "I am going hunting now."

Anyway, if this is interesting to you (as it obviously is to me), read here.