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Summary

One of the preeminent linguists of our time examines the realms of language that are considered shocking and taboo in order to understand what imbues curse words with such power - and why we love them so much.

Profanity has always been a deliciously vibrant part of our lexicon, an integral part of being human. In fact, our ability to curse comes from a different part of the brain than other parts of speech - the urgency with which we say "f--k!" is instead related to the instinct that tells us to flee from danger.

Language evolves with time, and so does what we consider profane or unspeakable. Nine Nasty Words is a rollicking examination of profanity, explored from every angle: historical, sociological, political, linguistic. In a particularly coarse moment, when the public discourse is shaped in part by once-shocking words, nothing could be timelier.

©2020 John McWhorter (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Rollicking, salty, learned, and intensely informative, John McWhorter's Nine Nasty Words is a grand tour through the history of the profanities we (sometimes) abhor and (sometimes) revel in (and sometimes both), peppered with cameos by everyone from Geoffrey Chaucer and Cole Porter to Tallulah Bankhead and the too-little-known singer-songwriter Lucille Bogan, still making people blush 70-odd years after her death, God bless her. I laughed frequently and learned plenty." (Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times best-selling author of Dreyer's English)

What listeners say about Nine Nasty Words

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Takes Lexicon Valley to a ‘whole nother’ level

John McWhorter’s wry sense of humour and easy delivery make this not just insightful but entertaining in a way the written word just couldn’t manage. As a Lexicon Valley listener (his podcast) I enjoyed this full length spin-off to the original series tremendously. No prior experience necessary.

It’s changed my perspective on ‘certain words’ and given meaning to some of the friendly uses of his nine nasty words I’ve heard in the movies and living in Scotland and England over the past 50 or so years. I’ll forgive him for the odd issue with his delivery of various British accents ;) He’s welcome over here any time to experience them in person!

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  • Gymkata
  • 15-05-21

Brilliant and Informative!

Linguistics is one of the most fascinating studies in all the liberal arts and this book will give you a first- hand glimpse of the complexity of word origins. It just so happens to be of the most profane words we use but all the more reason to enjoy it!

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  • cornholio
  • 03-06-21

Dude is a badass

If you think linguists are pencil necked geeks, you better duck, because McWhorter is gonna hammer you with a right cross!

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  • Daniel
  • 24-05-21

One hell of a performance!

What a great book, and the author’s performance was incredible. Sometimes thought provoking but always entertaining. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Mia
  • 16-07-21

Wonderful book by a great author.

The author does a great job and makes the book a wonderfully fun look at the history of so many of our favorite words.

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  • Nicholas Conrad
  • 12-07-21

John McWhorter is so charming

I didn't like the book overall as much as Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

by Melissa Mohr

but John's performance as a narrator was absolutely delightful. As an African American, John was also able to dive into racially charged words that Mohr was only able to skirt around.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-07-21

An Enlightening Journey

I first came across John’s work with The Great Courses. When I saw this new release I knew it would be an entertaining ride. He doesn’t shy away from anything and is clever as always.

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  • BrittPet
  • 25-06-21

Wonderful book!

Great linguistic study of nine nasty words in the English language. Fascinating to hear their origin stories and the journey they took to their meanings today. This book is not vulgar in any way for those offended by profane language. I would listen to a chapter a day and felt like I was sitting in on ~an hour linguists class.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 16-06-21

Funny, smart, charming

It may seem strange to describe a book about profanity as charming, but John McWhorter sure pulls it off. Nine Nasty Words looks at profanity through the eyes of a linguist, and explores the evolution and etymologies of our most taboo words. It manages to be thoroughly informative while staying interesting and fresh, no doubt due to McWhorter’s super approachable style that is both intellectual, casual, and full of wit.

The author reads the book himself (a huge plus) and really breaths life into his work with his performance.

All in all, a great book and an excellent performance.

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  • Shane
  • 15-06-21

how do Grammy nominations work?

john mcwhorter disarms the negativity of choice words by explaining the meaning (or interpretation?) out of them. you'll also learn that john 'gets you' as he reads his written word in a manner that exceeds the price of admission.

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  • Neil Dallas
  • 10-06-21

Excellent reading!

McWhorter is a great actor and his delivery makes this book better in audio than in print, IMO.

1 person found this helpful